Kassahun Wodajo Woldemariam*
Researcher Scholar at the Department of Journalism
and Mass Communication, Andhra University
Professor (Dr.) P. Bobby Vardhan**
Head, Department of Journalism and
Mass Communication, Andhra University
The purpose of this study is to describe the historical development of the Ethiopian mass media in the two consecutive regimes. To serve the purpose of the study, secondary analysis such as books, journals, periodicals, Ethiopian constitution, media proclamations and other relevant materials were reviewed. To this end, normative theories of the press were used to relate each regime media development.
The analysis and interpretation of the data reveal that modern mass media has emerged in Ethiopia during the reign of Emperor Minillik II. Another major finding of the study identifies the rapid growth of the press seen during the reign of Emperor Haile Selassie I, the successor of Emperor Minillik II. The analysis also indicates that the media development during the Derg regime was not as significant and censorship was the major impediment that made the media development lag behind. On the other hand, media development during the present government (EPRDF) has shown some improvements in which dual media ownership was introduced for the first time in the history of the country. According to the analysis of the data, the government-owned media in each regime was found non-critical of the government policies that maintained their success. The study shows that though some developments were seen, still it needs the commitment of the government to realize the independence of the media in the country.
In Ethiopia, the birth of the modern press is often traced to the reign of Emperor Menelik II.
However, Getachew (2003 in Nigussie, 2014) argued that the start of the press in Ethiopia goes back to the beginning of Christianity in the country when Geez language become the dominant medium of the state, culture and church. On the other hand, Nigussie (2014) relates the history of media in Ethiopia to the time of ancient kings. He says, “The history of media in Ethiopia can be most likely traced back to the time of ancient kings who started using the awajnegari, that is to say, news announcer. The religious and non-religious publications, as well as the different historical and religious writings on parchment, may mark the beginning of early press in Ethiopia.”(P.75)
Regarding the birth of modern press in the country, the end of the 19th century was a remarkable time when “missionaries and trade representatives had set up weekly and monthly papers in French. Le Semained’ Ethiopie (The Ethiopian Weekly) appeared in 1905″ (Ellen, Mesfin and Alemayehu, 2003)
At the beginning of the 20th century, a handwritten weekly newspaper called Aemero (Intelligence) appeared in 1902. Till it stopped publication in 1916, Aemerohad a circulation of over two hundred copies with the help of mimeograph machines (Ibid). Hence, the present review of Ethiopian mass media history mainly describes the development of modern media in the three successive regimes of the country. To this end, the historical development of the media as well as its development challenges in each regime was critically examined.
As far as methodology is concerned, this study focuses on document analysis. As mentioned earlier, the main purpose of this study is to describe the history of the Ethiopian press in line with the normative theories of the press. To this end, different articles, journals, books, scholarly works Ethiopian constitution, Ethiopian media proclamation and related documents about Ethiopian media history were used as the source of data.
Development during the regime of Haile Selassie I
Technological adoption and press development in the country were widely noted during the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie I. Two important factors contributed to the rapid development of the press during this regime. The first one was the establishment of the Birhanena Selam (Light and Peace) Printing press in 1923 and the second was the Italian occupation of the country for five years (1936-1940) (Nigussie, 2014)
Birhanena Selam (Light and Peace), still the largest printing press in the country, introduced the first printed official Amharic newspaper, named Berhanena Selam which served as a forum for the few young educated Ethiopians of the time. In 1942, an official Negarit Gazetha was founded and the press and information department was established under the then Ministry of Pen. Hence, the traditional means of message dissemination to the masses by drum beating and verbal shouting was totally replaced by newspapers.
Concerning radio, although the birth of radio was traced back to World War I, it is comparatively a very recent phenomenon in Ethiopia. The first radio station in Ethiopia was inaugurated in 1933 by an Italian company. After the installation was completed, the company retrieved it soon following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936.
Just as with the press, radio made progress after liberation. The short wave broadcast was resumed in 1941. In subsequent years the Voice of Ethiopia started operation in six languages from three locations –Addis Ababa, Harar and Asmara. A radio station that aired religious and entertainment material, called Voice of the Gospel, by the World Federation of Lutheran Churches started broadcasting (Jemal2013; Ellene, Mesfin, and Alemayehu, 2003)
Television came to Ethiopia with the meeting of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) held in Addis Ababa in 1964 and Emperor Haile Selassie’s 33rd Coronation Anniversary. It was established with the help of the British firm, Thomson Television International, who trained the technical staff and installed the equipment. TV highlighted the OAU meeting. (USAID.BESO Project, Undated).
Media during the Derg regime
The name Derg was taken from the(Ge’ez:‘ð- –’[Derg], meaning “committee” or “council”). It is the short name of the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army. A military group called Derg took over power from HaileSelassieI in September 1974. As for the development of the press during this regime, it promised an environment of freedom of the press which was created especially in the first two or three years. However, it did not last long (Ellene, Mesfin, and Alemayehu, 2003)
During the Derg rule, the press was oriented towards socialist ideology, mainly propagating socialism in the country. The functioning of the press functioning was in the hands of the government (Nigussie, 2014). Likewise, “The Censor Department of the Ministry of Information and National Guidance, which had been in existence since 1972, was reinforced and given more power in 1977”( Ellene, Mesfin, and Alemayehu, 2003 p.39 ).
During this period, the Voice of Ethiopia was changed to Radio Ethiopia which broadcast nationally and internationally; the station was broadcasting daily to East Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, and Western Europe in English, French, and Arabic languages (Ibid). The Ethiopian television (ETV) was the only television broadcasting socialist ideology at the time. Moreover, TV served as the mouthpiece of MengistuHailemariam, president of the then-Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
The nature and characteristics of the media during the Derg regime was almost communist. The main role of the media, as per the communist theory, is achieving communist goals through the promotion of communism. Both activities and ideologies of the media were controlled by the communist ideology (Yibeyin, 2014). The media was concerned only with the propaganda of socialism and national unity.
Present media in Ethiopia
After more than a decade of bloody struggle, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) overthrew the military junta in 1991. This created an opportunity in the country to undertake political and constitutional reforms. As African Media Barometer, (2010) explains “Democratic rights, including the right to freedom of expression, were introduced and state censorship before publication, which had been in place since 1942, was lifted” (P.5.)
Later, the 1995 Ethiopian constitution boldly guaranteed freedom of expression and the right to hold opinions without interference, in its Article (29/2) which read: “Freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice”.
The first historical legislation talking about the private press in the history of the country appeared in 1992 as proclamation number 34. The proclamation in its Article 2/1 states that “the right of citizens to launch any establishment of mass media such as newspapers, magazines, periodicals, journals, pamphlets, news agencies, radio, television, motion pictures, pictures, films, cartoons, books, music, electronics publications, plays, and includes all media of mass communication, to publish and distribute without censorship and any restriction of a similar nature, including freedom from prior restraint and liability after publication”(Meron, 2006, PP.28-29)
Having this promising environment the privately-owned press emerged in the early 1990s. However, since July 2006, the number of newspapers and magazines has dramatically reduced. Explaining the reason for this decrease, Berhane, (2002) and Getachew (2003) argued in Nigussie (2014) that “the intimidation of journalists, the rise in paper price, and the financial pressure due to paying a large amount of money to renew a license have forced some of the tabloids to be closed”(P. 87).
The government-owned Radio Ethiopia expanded both its area coverage and language of transmission after 1991. Accordingly, it is broadcast in the national languages Amharic, Afan Oromo, Tigrigna, Somali, Afar, Harari, Agnuak, Nuer, and in international languages, such as English, French and Arabic. However, according to Jamal (2013) until February 2012, “there were 26 radio stations that were operational in the country. These seven radio stations belonged to the state; they are owned either by the federal government or the regional states. Of the remaining radio stations, eleven are commercial (seven of the stations belong to Fana Broadcasting Corporate) and eight are community radios” (P. 14)
Regarding private ownership of radio broadcasting in the country, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency now re-named as Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority is a federal broadcast regulatory body established according to EBA No. 178/1999. Its aim is to license private broadcast media as per the criteria of the 2007 broadcast proclamation (Netsanet 2007; Skjerdal, 2011).
Under the license category of commercial broadcasting service, Radio Fana was the first commercial broadcasting service to be issued a commercial service license by the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority. However, despite its wider coverage, Fana Broadcast Corporation has alleged that its activity is controlled by interests close to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party (ETHIOPIA: Media and telecoms landscape guide 2011). There are other privately-owned radio stations operating in Addis Ababa. Sheger 102.1; Zami 90.7, Afro 105.3 and other currently emerging stations like Bisrat FM can be called as part of private media development (ETHIOPIA Media and telecoms landscape guide September 2011). Apart from the radio stations based in the country, there are two international radio stations that beam their broadcast to Ethiopia on the short wave. These are Voice of America (VOA) broadcast in Amharic, Oromigna and Tigrinya languages and Germany’s Radio Deutsche Welle broadcast in Amharic. The government is frequently accused of jamming both stations (Ibid)
In recent years, when compared to the past regimes and even the present regime itself before 2005, significant attempts were made to wider television development in the country. Formerly, the country has only one television station that broadcasts nationally with limited outreach; however, currently, though, there is no private TV broadcasting in the country most regional governments have owned their independent television station.
Moreover, regional states such as Oromya, Amhara, and SNNPRs have established their independent television stations and started broadcasting from their own studio. There are also currently private-owned television stations broadcasting to Ethiopia in Amharic language via satellite from abroad. These are, EBS (Ethiopian broadcasting service based in Maryland, USA), Kana TV (a joint venture between Moby group based in Dubai mostly focuses on international entertainment), ESAT (Ethiopian Satellite Television based in the Netherlands), Nahoo TV and JTV are among the ones. In addition BBC, CNN and Al-Jazeera (Arabic and English) and other international broadcasting services are available on satellite television.
During the early 1990s, the media environment seems liberal in its nature and as a result, many press products were boomed out though, there were limitations in broadcast media. However, government-owned media are characterized by development journalism so that the media should play its significant role as part of poverty and illiteracy reduction and ensuring democracy and good government in the country
The founder of modern Ethiopia, emperor MInillik II was also known for his keen interest in bringing modern technologies of the time to Ethiopia. It was during his regime that the modern press was introduced in the country when the first handwritten newspaper called Aemiro (Intelligence) came into existence in 1902.
The Ethiopian media development was associated with the political philosophy of the governments in the power of the time. During the regime of Emperor Haile Selassie I, the successor of emperor Minllik II, the press enjoyed relative growth. A number of newspapers and magazines had come into existence. Moreover, electronic media such as radio and television were also introduced in the country at that time. However, the media of the time was blamed as the mouthpiece and servant of the royal class.
Following the imperial regime, the country was fallen into the hand of the military regime of the Derge. The media development of the Derg regime was not as significant. All the activities of the press were expected to pass through censorship. Private media was not possible and all the media activity was under the control of the government and it was served as a propaganda instrument of socialism ideology that the government was adopting.
When it comes to the media environment to the present regime of the EPRDF (Ethiopian People Revolutionary Democratic Front) who defeated the military regime and came to power in 1991, at the very start the media enjoyed freedom which had never been seen in the history of the country. As a result, dual media ownership is possible and a number of newspapers and magazines have massively emerged in the market. However, due to professional, economic and readership problem, most of the newspapers and magazines appeared in the market are not successful.
Moreover, not only the private media show improvement but also the media under the government ownership have also developed dramatically. For instance, currently, most of the regional governments have their own broadcast and print media. Though the government media is not critical of the government policies and programs according to some scholars, the federal state-run- radio and television has shown significant development in reaching almost all of the country’s population. Similarly, private radio broadcasting is also established in the country; however, most are blamed for their non-critical programs and main focus on entertainment-based sensational content.
Finally, there is relative, significant media development in the country. Nonetheless, still, it lacks content that criticizes the government activities and the media which serve the interest of the society. Furthermore, professional, economic and literacy problems are the major impediments that are making the media not function as intended in the country.
- African Media Barometer (2010).The first homegrown analysis of the media landscape in Africa. Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES)
- Amaha Diana (2004). Ethiopian Telecommunication Corporation International Symposium on ICT Education and Application in Developing Countries: In Ethiopia Status and Trends Addis Ababa. Retrieved from:
- https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.audionowdigital.player.fana&hl=en) Accessed on 18/11/16
- AmeyuEtana (2014). The Status and Descent of Press Freedom in Ethiopia: Factors that Account. Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia.
- Christophe Van der Beken (2007). Ethiopia: from a Centralized Monarchy to the Federal Republic Afrika Focus, Vol. 20, Nr. 1-2, 2007, pp. 13-48
- DerejeAbeje (2014). The History of Journalism in Ethiopia: A Term Paper Presented in Bahir Dar University
- ElleneMocria, MesfinMessele and AlemayehuGebreHiwot (2003).Survey of culture and media Ethiopia: Addis Ababa: Sida.
- Ethiopia (2011) Media and telecoms landscape guide
- Jemal Mohammed (2013). Challenges and Opportunities in the Use of Radio Broadcast for Development in Ethiopia: Secondary Data Analysis. Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies Volume: 3 – Issue: 2
- Kevin Williams (2003).Understanding Media Theory. Oxford University Press Inc., 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY10016
- McQuail D. 2005.McQuail’s Communication Theory. London: Sage
- MeronBerhane (2006). The Ethiopian Media Law with Particular Reference to the Broadcasting Proclamation NO. 178/1999. M.A thesis submitted to Addis Ababa University
- NegaritGazzet. 1992. A proclamation to Provide for the Freedom of the Press. Proclamation No. 34, Year 52, No. 8, SI. Addis Ababa: BerhanenaSelam Printing Enterprise.
- NegaritGazzet. 1995. Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. SI. Addis Ababa: BerhanenaSelam Printing Enterprise
- NigussieMeshesha (2014). Media and Politics in Ethiopia: A Critical Analysis.
- Ethiop.j.soc.lang.stud. 1(2), 74-95. eISSN: 2408-9532
- Richard Pankhurst (undated).A History of Early Twentieth Century Ethiopia: The Beginnings of Ethiopia’s Modernization. Retrieved from eb.linkethiopia.org/guide-to-ethiopia/the-pankhurst-history-library/ accessed on 10/11/2016
- Terje S. Skjerdal(2011). Journalists or activists?Self-identity is the Ethiopian Diasporas Online Community.Journalism 12(6), 727–44
- USAID.BESO Project (Undated).Ethiopia: Educational Radio and Television. Retrieved from http://www.techknowlogia.org/tkl_articles/pdf/121.pdf accessed on 14/11/2016
- YibeyinHagos (2014). A Brief Look into Ethiopian Mass Media. Retrieved from http://www.tigraionline.com/articles/ethiopian-mass-media-14.html accessed on 15/11/2016
- Wilson Ugangu(2012). Normative Media Theory and the Rethinking of the role of the Kenyan Media in a Changing SocialEconomic Context. The University Of South Africaretrieved from:
- http://uir.unisa.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10500/8606/thesis_ugangu_w.pdf?sequence=1 accessed on 18/11/2016