The appointment of government officials as board members of the Ethiopian Media Authority (EMA) has led to opposition from the media industry. Media practitioners have considered it a threat to media institutions and freedom of speech.
During a session on Thursday, April 7, 2022, the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR) approved nine board members for the Authority, violating the Media Proclamation ratified by the HPR itself in April 2021. Of the 243 members of the HPR present at the session, only 11 opposed the decision, while 17 abstained.
The Media Proclamation stipulates selection of board members to be conducted through an open and transparent public nomination, with publicity given to the selection process as well as a shortlist of candidates.
Contravening stipulations of the media law, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), recruited nominees by himself and forwarded their names to the House for approval.
Members or employees of any political party cannot serve as board members of the Authority, as laid down in the proclamation. However, the Parliament has approved the appointment of the ruling Prosperity Party’s members such as Agaredech Jemaneh (PhD) and Redwan Hussein (Amb.), State Minister of Foreign Affairs, among others.
As stated in the Proclamation, the nine board members are supposed to be two from civil society organizations, two from media and two from other institutions that have relevance to the media sector.
But in the list of members the HPR approved on Thursday, there are no members either from the media or civil society, except for three individuals with background in journalism.
Powers vested on the media board include implementing the Media Proclamation, determining the budget and work plan of the Authority, drafting and approving directives for staffing, salary and benefits, recruiting and nominating directors, deciding on licensing of media institutions, hearing public complaints over media institutions, investigating media institutions, monitoring media licensing, among other powers.
The board basically assumes more powers than the Authority’s director general.
Following the Parliament’s move to approve the board members, multiple media personalities have been alarmed by the decision to appoint them in violation of the media law.
A person, who helped draft the media law, speaking to The Reporter anonymously, said “the decision of the parliament is shocking. It is a mistake and an apparent contempt to the general public, the democratic process, and the media sector,” the person noted.
‘’Unless the Parliament takes immediate corrective measures to rectify the problem, there would be grave consequences, especially when the parliament violates its own proclamation. It is really frustrating,’’ he added.
An expert on media, speaking to The Reporter on conditions of anonymity, described the process as a clear and deliberate violation of the media law, starting from the selection to the composition and all the way to the appointment of its board members.
“As the Parliament shirks its responsibility of defending the laws of the land, political parties, media institutions and associations, journalists and all other stakeholders should do their level best to reverse this sad state of affairs,” the expert added.