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Broadcast Authority requests legislative help to regulate broadcasters

  • One regional broadcaster  refuses centralized digital network
  • Four private broadcasters ordered to transfer ownership

The Director General of the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority (EBA), Zeray Asgedom, has requested the assistance of the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) to tighten its regulatory efforts on broadcasters serving the Ethiopian public and to launch the planned national digital network.

Zeray made a bold statement in claiming that the executive is responsible for delaying the endorsement of a draft proclamation which legislates the transition to digital broadcast network, though it has been over three years since the drafting of the proclamation and two years since its submission to the Council of Ministers.

Zeray along with his senior officials at the Authority met members of the Culture and Tourism Affairs Standing Committee of the HPR on Wednesday scheduled to present its report for the first quarter of the current fiscal year.

During the half-day session, members of the standing committee posed various question that includes the long-awaited and delayed draft proclamation on digital broadcast network as well as the recently mushrooming locally operating private television broadcasters.

Some of these broadcasters are accused of “operating in Ethiopia” without going through the proper licensing procedure with the Authority.

Responding to the questions, officials of the Authority said that though the draft proclamation that is believed to be instrumental for the transition of television service in Ethiopia from analogue to digital had been completed three years ago, the legislative body as well as the executive have failed repeatedly to endorse it, eventually affecting the Authority’s institutional restructuring as well.

“…The draft proclamation had been submitted to the Council of Ministers a long time ago. However, the Council did not endorsed it, so far,” Gizaw Tesfaye, Director of Law and Advertisements Directorate with the EBA told the standing committee, adding that the Authority is still discussing with senior officials at federal and regional levels.

Gizaw who also requested the standing committee for helping to get the draft legislation endorsed added that “the delay of the bill is already affecting the Authority’s internal structure preventing it from executing its task effectively and while hindering transition to digital broadcast network.

Adding on Gizaw’s explanation, Zeray even went on to level strong criticism to what he referred to as the pertinent bodies in connection to the digitalization process including his organization.

He further told the standing committee that the delay might have been caused by one regional state (unnamed) which has refused the central digital broadcast network project and refused to be governed by the legislation.

“I am very much pleased that this question, [why the proclamation has not yet being enacted], was asked by the standing committee. While drafting the proclamation we had had various stakeholders take part in the discussion, and contributing to the process. However, it could not be endorsed yet and we have been made to wait over two and a half year for no legitimate reason,” an irritated Zeray told the standing committee.

He further argued that delay of the proclamation has got a deeper meaning.

He further said that the Authority, on its part, is undertaking the complementary tasks related to the digitalization process including the manufacturing of Digital Center Boxes through its customer (INSA).

However, he added, “We have been studying the experience of other countries’ digital broadcast systems. However, we found that there is no any country in the world except Ethiopia who is commencing with the digitalization process without having the proclamation in place.”

 “The digitalization plan under a centralized network has been welcomed by all the regional states and city administrations with the exception of one of the regions which refused it strongly. Yet, the country has its own constitutions. It only needs interpretation of this law of the land. This proclamation should have not been delayed for such a long time just because of one particular regional state,” he added.

On the other hand, the Authority also notified the committee that it has already identified four of the five privately-owned channels operating “illegally” without proper licensing yet their owners are foreign citizens who are not allowed legally to operate a media house in Ethiopia.

Zeray stated that the four channels he accused are Kana, EBS, LTV, and Nahoo.

Though four of them are owned by Ethiopia-born members of the diaspora, they are engaged in a sector which is reserved for Ethiopian citizens alone, he added.

After carrying out investigation, the Authority found out that the four channels were registered in a foreign country while most of their productions and marketing activities are here in Ethiopia. Hence, the greater portion of their profit is made here, he said, adding that the need to enforce the law is a matter of national sovereignty.

As far as some of the mentioned broadcasters are concerned, what the Authority has said to the standing committee might not be representative to all of them. According to Amman Fissehazion, Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Ethiopian Broadcasting Services (EBS), there is less legal ambiguity regarding the TV network that he leads. “As far as EBS is concerned we have been in the airwaves for past eight years basing our broadcasting operation in Silver Spring, Maryland in the US, where we have complied with all the legal registration and tax obligation of the land,” he told The Reporter in a telephone interview. He also stated that EBS’s operation in the US is quite formidable with almost 40 percent of their programing sourced from EBS-US.

Accordingly, Amman also argues that all of EBS’s journalists in Ethiopia are legally registered with the Government Communications Affairs Office as proper foreign media correspondents operating in Ethiopia. Whereas, with regards to its local affiliate working on advertisement and programs, called Incom Trading PLC, Amman said that it is a locally registered company which procures programs and advertisement from Ethiopia.

However, Zeray admitted that taking legal action such as shutting down the channels is not his first choice since it could “spark serious uproar among the audiences”.

Amman as well said that based on the relationship he had with the Authority, he never saw the intention of the EBA shutting down the broadcasters. “In our constant contact with EBA we were told a while back that we needed to find a way to get registered legally in Ethiopia since we have most of our audience here,” he said. Although we wanted to do that, the legal requirement to register as local broadcaster has stringent conditions in connection to the ownership structure of broadcasters which will bar EBS and few others from registering. “Some of our shareholders are Ethiopian and some are Ethiopian-born foreign citizens and that will create a problem to become a local broadcaster,” he noted.

That is when we, together with EBA, decided to pursue the matter and get the registration hurdles clear up, he explained to The Reporter. And as far as we are concerned, we are still lobbying for the amendment of the law together with the EBA,” he added.          

Meanwhile, Zeray told the standing committee that the Authority has already told broadcasters to transfer their ownership licenses to their preferred Ethiopian partners, relatives or any one they prefer. On the other hand, another cited broadcaster, Kana, prefers to refrain from commenting until the ongoing talks with EBA are completed.   

Zeray also noted that mushrooming religious networks on various satellites, which he estimates to be over 20 channels, are also airing their programs against the rule. He added that the country’s legal system does not permit the transmission of religious TV broadcast.

Regarding the faith-based organization, Zeray and EBA will also take the high road by negotiating with them on how they can operate and if there are suggestions as to how they could contribute instead of taking action directly against them.