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New Election code demands strict media conduct
Birtukan Mideksa, Chairperson of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia

New Election code demands strict media conduct

The newly drafted Code of Conduct for the Mass Media and Journalists on the Manner of Reporting about Elections, a daft regulation put together by the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE), appears to be more comprehensive and strict, maintaining the ban on Election Day prediction and pre-election polling by the media houses, while allowing the publishing of pre-election polls with proper citing of polling organization and other details.

The draft directive proposes allowing publishing prediction polls for media houses, but says, does not clearly provide if they can or not do the polls by themselves. Conducting opinion polls was not also allowed in the previous five national elections the country held over the past 25 years. In Article 27, the new directive provides that, “whichever media house can publish or present any kind of prepared pre-election prediction polls that are useful for the electorate.” But, the directive puts conditions for doing so.

First, they have to name the organizations that did the polling and when they did it, how many voters took part in the polls, where, when and how it was conducted, the method that they used to do so, what questions were asked to gather the votes, as well as identify information gathered from fieldwork in their reporting.

However, the new directive clearly prohibits conducting polls and predictions on Election Day.

In addition to this, the new directive places procedures where election reporters have to request for accreditation from the Board to report about elections and getting accredited fully falls on the discretion of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia.

Requests for accreditation could be declined if the journalist assigned to do the reporting on the election is found to be a member of a political party or is running as a candidate, if the application for accreditation came late, if the application for accreditation is presented by unauthorized person, and if the institution requesting for accreditation does not have a legal personality.

A surprise for many was the demand by the Board for the ownership of the media house to be included in the application for accreditation. Any institution requesting for accreditation should give the name and address of the institution, the name of the institution’s owner, which electoral process of the election the institution will cover, the list of journalists assigned for the task, the name, and address of the person leading the team of journalists covering election, as well as, for foreign journalists, the date they will enter the country.

In related news, the board unveiled a draft electoral schedule on Wednesday, January 15, 2019. Accordingly, the D-Day for the 2020 General Elections is slated for August 16; three months late from the customary dates in the month of May.

The Board said that the shortage of time to prepare for the elections was the reason for conducting the elections in August. It also said this would give space for political parties to prepare themselves for the elections.

But, the participants in the discussion on the schedule raised their concerns that the rainy season would highly affect the turnout of the electorate in addition to its hindrance to the logistical demands of the process. Some representatives of political parties demanded for the election to be extended by a minimum of three months, some even suggesting extending it indefinitely.

The board also recognized the logistical challenges that the rainy season would pose but said that there could have been no time to hold the polls given the lack of time to prepare for May and the constitutional provision not to extend it further or indefinitely. The board also said that it would use vehicles from the defense force to facilitate its logistics so as the polls are conducted smoothly on the said day.