- Executive committee considering legal recourse, ombudsman
A product of a decade-long negotiation that involved consolidation and compromise, the Ethiopian Media Council, the first and only one in country was officially formed in September 02, 2016. However, eight months after its establishment, the self-regulatory organ’s future is said to be uncertain as it was unable to attain legal personality until now.
According to the executive committee of the council, so far there are no proper government institutions which will register it and accord it a legal personality. “We simply have no takers,” Amare Aregawi, chairman of the executive committee said on Wednesday at a meeting organized by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority to discuss on broadcast inspection outcomes.
The response the council got from the Charities and Societies Agency (CSA) was rather bizarre, according to Amare. “We were told that in order to be recognized and registered as an association, we needed to be organized as individuals not as a group of institutions (media) which made no sense” he said.
The Ethiopian Media Council is made up of 19 media companies and journalist associations drawn from both broadcast and print categories. Article 38 of the Draft Press Proclamation of 2000 provided for the establishment of a Press Council in Ethiopia where membership is drawn from the federal government, association of journalists, journalists, publishers, broadcasters and societies.
The council has its own organizational structure with the General Assembly sitting at the apex and aided by an executive committee, audit body and the ethical panel pooled from eminent legal professionals and personalities. Apart from that, the council has ratified its article of association and code of ethics to go along with it.
According to the chairman, the worst part of this ordeal is the fact that no government body is willing to explain why the council could attain its legal personality. “We asked if there are things that we lack and we were told that there is none. We simply could not be registered,” Amare said.
Woldu Yemesil, General Manager of Fana Broadcasting Corporate, who was in attendance at the broadcasters’ meeting, however, had other ideas as to why the council is refused registration. Based on his experience with the failed attempt of establishing the broadcasters’ forum, Woldu argued that the main reason behind the refusal of registration is a supposed rule about government and private institutions not being allowed to come together under one association.
“Of course, we can debate this prohibition, but that is what we are told in our attempt to form the broadcasters’ forum,” Woldu said. Nevertheless, Amare argued that there is no such specification and nothing of that sort is indicated either by CSA or other authorities.
In fact, the legal quagmire that the council finds itself in is not a new one. Even during the formation days, the media council members were aware of the legal hurdle. In one hand, CSA claims that the proclamation does not allow the registration of associations made up of institutions and other associations.
While on the other hand, customary practice globally requires a press council to be composed of media companies (publishers and broadcasters) and associations of journalists and societies; not individual journalists. In fact, membership composition of the press council was among some of the most controversial and debated matters in the council’s formative years. According to the arguments floated at that time, if the press council is to be an effective self-regulatory organ, it needs to have the mechanism to enforce the code of ethics that members agreed up on; and who better than publishers and broadcasters to enforce the code? The argument goes.
So cognizant of this unique challenge, subsequent ministers of communications, Redwan Hussien and Getachew Reda vowed to initiate the necessary revisions in the proclamation and provide for the registration of the council. According to executive body, things went back to square one when the current minister, Negeri Lencho (PhD), took office. However, Negeri was sympathetic to the plight of the council and also vowed to rectify the situation. “That was two months ago,” Amare said. “And so far we have not heard any response.”
“The registration issue has become a bit more than an inconvenience at this stage since we are unable to collect contribution from members for lack of formal bank accounts which requires registration certificate,” Amare said. On the other hand, the council could not respond to any correspondence request from other councils around the world and it is forgoing the chance for fruitful cooperation.
At end of the day, the council would also be forced to pursue other avenues for registration, the chairman told the meeting. The likes of the Office of Ombudsman, which is the guardian of the Freedom of Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation, would be other options, he said. “Or perhaps exhaust other legal options.”