Supporting change is by no means equivalent to mouthing the government. Supporting change is not about overlooking while things stumble. It is about expanding the good deeds and being watchful of the government when they have to. Serving as a change agent is about ringing the wake-up call when the government begins derailing from the right track, writes Kibrom Berhane.
Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister (PM) Abiy Ahmed (PhD) admits the discontent of the people due to the government’s catastrophic management of public requests. Since then, his government promised to undertake reforms which we observe today. In this flabbergasting process of political change, it is obvious that media are the most important institutions or mechanisms to reflect the public demands and, thus, to realize the social and political reforms.
Media have vital roles to investigate the root causes of public disappointments and to help the government take decisions on public issues. Professional media do have the character and personality to call for attention when things go wrong (whoever did them). They have the moral, professional, and legal grounds to probe people in power. They are responsible to check whether the public interests are not compromised for the benefits of the political and economic elites. This, however, will be achieved when the media play the watchdog role, not by media institutions, such as ours, which are lapdogs.
When the government begins overhauling the political structure, most of us, particularly in the journalism profession, might expect that we will have a relatively free media to carry on journalistic tasks based on the professional principles.
Currently, however, the journalism practices of the mainstream media, especially of the broadcast media, appear to be below par. Most leading broadcasters seem to be comfortable with always working at the mercy of the government than aiming for their journalistic freedom and institutional independence. They do not act as guardians of truth and freedom. Most of their reports are event based. They are not watchful of the government. They stenographically tell the words of elites (without the necessary interpretations of the issues for the public).
Based on their current practices, one cannot be certain about their professional capability to analyze the prospect(s) of this country. They are simply short of words to appreciate the current political changes than presenting concrete evidence about the impacts of the changes in the lives of the general public. They are not able to show us how our country can, for example, synthesize a democratic leadership, fast economic growth, and peaceful relationships between ethnic groups.
The national broadcaster (Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation – ETV) is accustomed to mouthing the government. Most regional broadcasters attack each other. They become battlegrounds of regional political tensions. They are platforms of irrational political exchanges between regional leaders who are at odds. Broadcasters under shareholders (such as Fana Broadcasting Corporate, Dimtsi Weyane Tigray, and Walta Media and Communication Corporation) are rocking between mouthing the government and pretending to be independent sources of information for the public.
Currently, although they have a relative freedom to act independently, most of our media institutions do not exercise how to fearlessly probe the government and other stakeholders. They seem to forget that supporting the government about current changes needs more than accepting everything the government proposes. Independent media, which stand for a democratic leadership, do not simply support the government to expand its power.
Many journalism professionals might, of course, claim that they are doing satisfactorily compared with the extent of freedom available to them. I would rather say that they avidly censor themselves often due to perceived threats to their safety. It is almost impossible to see their professional integrity and freedom in reporting critical issues. They seem to present the opinions of individuals as facts especially when it comes from political elites. The best example for this will be the broadcasting of a ‘documentary’, titled “Minabawiyu”, by a couple of television stations around two weeks ago.
In my view, any independent and professional medium does not broadcast a one-sided and misleading content. When a medium broadcasts a content which is independently unverified, it puts its trustworthiness at stake. The transmission of the aforementioned so-called documentary, which chronicles about the corruption-riddled Metals and Engineering Corporation (MetEC), is a clear testimony of how our broadcast media do not conduct independent researches on important public issues. They simply broadcast the judgments of some powerful groups and individuals.
Making a documentary or investigating the grand corruption at MetEC is one thing. Broadcasting politically motivated and unfairly produced media content is another thing. This is not expected from media organizations which are supposed to serve the public fairly. It is not how media can be leaders of social, political, and economic transformations in our society.
Such and other one-sided journalism practices are examples of unprofessional or bad reporting. Nowadays, most of our broadcasters follow either populist ends with the intention of winning the attention of particular groups – which is a tactic used by some regional televisions such as Amhara television and Tigray television; or they pretend to be independent sources of information while mouthing the government – which is a strategy applied by most television stations at the national level such as Ethiopian Television (ETV), Walta elevision, and Fana television.
Furthermore, in my view, broadcasters at the national level show a statist tendency. Most of their programs promote the government or the state to have substantial centralized control over almost all social, political, and economic affairs.
By naively supporting everything that the government did and said, they want to show the public that they are agents of change. For so doing, nonetheless, they often seem to forget reporting what is on the ground. Supporting change is by no means equivalent to mouthing the government. Supporting change is not about overlooking while things stumble. It is about expanding the good deeds and being watchful of the government when they have to. Serving as a change agent is about ringing the wake-up call when the government begins derailing from the right track.
Generally speaking, media which can effectively contribute to the establishment of a strong political system go between the mass and the political elites. They do not lurk behind the government and the general public until they set the agenda for them. They rather do researches independently to enhance their influence on the government and society. In terms of politics, for instance, the role of the media is to provide reliable information for the people to effectively decide and participate in politics. If they fail to do this, they cannot be considered as valuable social institutions. This is basically why unprofessional media cannot be change agents.
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].