Without marginalizing other important factors, it is possible to claim that the poor journalism practice in Ethiopia may partly be the outcome of poor journalism education – that might fail to understand the profession in line with the socio-political and economic context of the country, writes Kibrom Berhane.
In comparison with many other disciplines (such as law and medicine), journalism is a relatively new academic field. Partly because it was assumed to be apprentice-based, technical training was supposed to be enough. Thus, literatures indicate that journalism education maintained a marginal status in universities until the end of the 20th century. At college level, it was first offered in 1869, in the United States. In the 1980s and 1990s, however, journalism was accepted as a field of study in newly established universities world-wide. In Africa, though the development of formal media started in the 1800s, university level journalism education began in the 1930s in Egypt.
Similarly, journalism practice in Ethiopia began many decades before journalism training/education. Established in 1996, Ethiopian Mass Media Training Institute (EMMTI) (which is merged with the School of Journalism and Communication at Addis Ababa University in 2006 as an undergraduate division) was the first journalism training center in Ethiopia. This training institute was meant to train only members of the government press; thereby, it was not helpful for the private press. Partly as a result of which, alike the practice in many countries such as the US, Australia and many European countries, journalism in Ethiopia is an open profession.
For many decades, journalism vacancies in the country have been open for applicants of college graduates in almost any field of study, particularly in the social sciences. Let alone in the far past, ten or fifteen years ago vacancy announcements of such kind would, of course, have important reasons. Mainly because there were few (or no) journalism graduates, it seemed to be a good solution to open the profession for candidates from different fields of study.
Today, however, there are more than twelve journalism and/or communication departments in different public and private universities in the country (i.e. more than ten in public universities and two in private university colleges). Nevertheless, in the face of significant progress in which media institutions are hiring journalism graduates, still they compete for (journalism) jobs with people who finished their degrees in other fields of studies, especially in the social sciences. Moreover, some prominent private newspaper owners in the country, particularly Amare Aregawi (owner of The Reporter), believes that “anyone that has the passion can be [a] journalist” regardless of whether she/he has journalism background (cited in a study done by Afework Gebreegziabher in 2013).
These instances might indicate that journalism education in Ethiopia maintains marginal recognition as a pathway to professional journalism practice.
Besides, in their discussion on challenges facing journalism education in Eastern Africa, Terje Skjerdal (a journalism professor at NLA university college, Kristiansand, Norway) and Charles Muiru Ngugi note that, among other challenges, “[t]here seems to be a general negative attitude towards the low quality of graduates from schools of journalism.” Correspondingly, despite journalism education in Ethiopia is mushrooming, Woldegiorgis Gebrehiwot (who was a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University; now a media professional and current affairs analyst at Ethiopian News Network – ENN), contends that the practice is still in poor shape. As many other professionals argue, one of potential evidence of which is that both the state and private-owned media serve their interests aligning with certain groups and considering the public as a spectator, not as the main part of their work. In consequence, the general public arguably has less trust towards the mainstream media.
There are also further arguments which contend that probably because they have professional deficiencies, junior journalists are not well-versed with such core concepts of the profession as watchdog journalism; and challenges and opportunities of being journalists in Ethiopian context. Moreover, the managing editor of Capital newspaper (a business Weekly), Teguest Yilma, states that less professionalism and incompetence are among the main challenges of Ethiopian journalism (cited in a study by Hallelujah Lule in 2008).
Accordingly, it appears as a paradox to see unremitting poor journalism practices and disbelief of stakeholders (particularly media owners) toward the qualities of journalists while journalism education is proliferating. Hence, without marginalizing other important factors, it is possible to claim that the poor journalism practice in Ethiopia may partly be the outcome of poor journalism education – that might fail to understand the profession in line with the socio-political and economic context of the country.
Indeed, in the Ethiopian context where government control on free media is tight, it is difficult to put the blame for poor journalism practice only on poor journalism education. One can also imagine that unfavorable political conditions and other structural factors such as legal constraints, regulatory regimes, and system of media ownership are additional explanations for the problems in the journalism profession. However, against a backdrop of these factors, as Self explains, it is claimed that “the presence or absence of effective university-level education is [among the primary factors to assess] the health of any country’s media sector.”
Seemingly, as a logical sequel to the aforementioned assertion, we can present at least two basic stumbling blocks for quality of journalism education in Ethiopia. Primarily, there is a view that journalism scholars’ and educators’ failure to scrutinize and clarify the dilemmas pragmatically makes it ambiguous for the practitioners to know how journalism works in different contexts and how it is perceived by different stakeholders. As many commentators state, one possible instance of which is that the vast majority of scholarly works are in the realm of abstract thinking while practitioners deal with the hard realities on the ground.
Secondly, most Journalism and Communication departments/schools in Ethiopia, perhaps with relative exceptions of Addis Ababa University (AAU), Bahir Dar University (BDU) and Mekele University (MU), suffer from a lack of adequate teaching technologies and practical platforms for their students. This, by implication, means that journalism students do not have access to the contemporary media technologies which are transforming the media landscape.
Therefore, it is difficult to argue that students graduate with adequate knowledge of the actual newsrooms realities.
Ed.’s Note: Kibrom Berhane is a lecturer of Journalism and Communication at Mekele University. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]