The Ethiopian Media Authority (EMA) delayed the licensing of religious television channels following the parliament’s failure to establish a Management Board for the Authority on time. Religious television channels have been waiting to receive their licenses since April 2021, after the Media Proclamation was ratified for the first time.
The proclamation states that a Management Board will be formed to prepare a Directive that sets the criteria to determine the competency and technical standards of broadcasting services and issue certificates of competency and technical competency based on the Directive.’ In addition, the directive also differentiates the Management Board from the Director Generalship.
However, the Directive could not be ratified, since the Management Board has not come into existence almost a year after the proclamation was passed, changing the former Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) into the EMA.
“The Board will be established soon. It was delayed because it needs involvement of many stakeholders,” said Yonatan Tesfaye, deputy director at the Authority.
The proclamation states that the Board shall have nine members appointed by the House of Peoples’ Representatives, upon recommendation by the PM. ‘Two of them shall be drawn from civil society organizations, two from the media and two from other institutions that have relevance to the media sector. The other three shall be drawn from relevant government organs.’
According to The Reporter’s sources, the formation of the Management Board is delayed because the government has been busy with the year-long conflict in northern Ethiopia.
Yonatan stated that the delay of the Board’s formation had no impact on the media industry but on the Authority.
“It has two impacts internally, and on the institution. The first is that approving directives is taking a longer time. Second, it is also affecting benefit packages of employees,” said Yonatan.
Mohammed Idris, director general of the EMA, is hopeful that the directive that enables the licensing of religious TV stations will be ratified soon.
“The new directive is crafted based on the new media proclamation. And refraining from streaming contents that incite conflict is the major requirement for the licensing. The law is designed to enable the Authority to regulate and control such broadcasters,” Mohammed said.
A number of religious channels are already broadcasting without a license from the Authority. “There are many religious television channels. They are asking to give them the licenses, so they can operate after registering legally,” added Mohammed.
Religious television officials told The Reporter that the absence of the license is affecting their plans.
Insiders stated that the government is dragging its feet not to license religious broadcasters.
“Religious media was not allowed in Ethiopia, until the new media proclamation came into effect. Many religious institutions are waiting eagerly, to have their licenses and broadcast their content.Currently, many are broadcasting without a license. The government is delaying the directive, because it does not really want religious TV stations to operate legally. It also does not want to ban them completely,” said a broadcaster close to the issue.
“The government has no satellites but the proclamation empowered the government to issue licenses. This is unjust for broadcasters, on top of the expensive rent they have to pay,” added the broadcaster, who wanted to remain anonymous.
Even though the government fears such stations will stream contents that might incite conflicts, some say licensing them is better for regulation.
The proclamation states that applicants to open a TV or Radio station may petition to the Board within 30 days, if the Director General of the Authority fails to respond within the specified period. The Board shall give its decision within 30 days.’
However, it also states ‘potential applicants for a radio and a television licenses shall be given three months and nine months’ time, respectively, to prepare their work plan documentations.’