Wednesday, November 13, 2013

African Media Initiative (AMI) Statement

The Africa Media Initiative (AMI) has for some time engaged the Ethiopian leadership in a conversation that we hope will improve the local media landscape and help secure the release from prison of several Ethiopian journalists.

We embarked on this admittedly risky pursuit because we believe in respectful and candid dialog; after all, the same strategy of engaging leaders directly has helped free journalists this year in two other African countries.

Beyond merely securing the release of our colleagues, however, we also are devising a long-term strategy for the improvement of the atmosphere in which journalist work in Ethiopia. We are also eager to help strengthen the skill level of local journalists and media owners to help them better play their role effectively in a rapidly changing Ethiopia.

We note that our bold decision to hold our annual African Media Leaders Forum (AMLF) in Addis Ababa has had the altogether happy effect of focusing renewed attention on the plight of our colleagues. We are persuaded that this will contribute to hastening a long-term solution to their situation.

In the past several months' members of our board have had various conversations with Ethiopia's political leaders, including Prime Minister Desalegn and a number of his cabinet colleagues. We have done the same with family members of the incarcerated journalists and their colleagues inside and outside Ethiopia.

We have found a significant degree of openness in our conversations with the authorities, even an eagerness to help resolve this problem, which we consider wholly unnecessary and even harmful to Ethiopia's larger ambitions to leave its recent traumatic experiences behind.
Despite blunt refusals to allow various foreign delegations, including European and American ones to visit the imprisoned journalists, Ethiopian officials finally consented to allow AMI leaders to visit the prison in Addis Ababa on Wednesday November 6. While an unfortunate disagreement on the prison grounds over who would be allowed to sit in on our planned meeting with our colleagues temporarily aborted the mission, we are hopeful that we will soon be able to gain direct access again to facilitate their release.

Importantly, we are persuaded that many key leaders in Ethiopia share our view that it is past time for our colleagues to be released. We would like to thank the prime minister and many in his cabinet for this opening, and look forward to a rapid resolution.
We understand and sympathize with some of our colleagues and partners, who have expressed concern, and even skepticism, regarding our approach. Some believe that a more confrontational stance is required. That is not our belief as we think there is more than one way to get to the same destination.

Finally, we note with disappointment the ill-advised decision by the Kenyan parliament to pass a new law constraining press freedoms. This is a wholly unnecessary embarrassment to a resurgent Kenya, whose robust media has played an invaluable role in resolving its political crisis of recent years, and in comforting a nation traumatized by terrorism and shining a bright light on the inadequacies of its security forces.
We are encouraged that the Kenyan president has expressed skepticism about the proposed law, and wish to state our clear opposition to its ever being enacted.

Addis Ababa, November 8, 2013


About AMI
The African Media Initiative is the continent's largest umbrella association of African media owners, senior executives and other industry stakeholders. AMI's mandate is to serve as a catalyst for strengthening African media by building the tools, knowledge resources and technical capacity for African media to play an effective public interest role in their societies. This mandate includes assisting with the development of professional standards, financial sustainability, technological adaptability and civic engagement.
International Institute for ICT Journalism

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