Another nail in the coffin of the private press By Hindessa Abdul

April 2nd, 2011 Print Print Email Email

A couple of years back Berhanena Selam Printing Press (BSPP) found itself to be the top most censor of the Ethiopian private press. The 90 year old publishing house at Arat Kilo actually never begged for it. But that’s what happened. (more…)

A couple of years back Berhanena Selam Printing Press (BSPP) found itself to be the top most censor of the Ethiopian private press. The 90 year old publishing house at Arat Kilo actually never begged for it. But that’s what happened. When the government cracked down on the private press following the 2005 general elections, some still refused to budge. So the government designed a plan telling the printing press they have a responsibility on the contents of the printed materials. That way BSPP found itself to be the chief censor at the time. In the eyes of the printing press officials, most of the contents of what was left of the private press were politically sensitive. The only articles that were safe to print were obituaries.

As a result, sports and romantic periodicals were the only publications that adorned the streets of Addis. Of course, a couple of other “private newspapers” were also allowed to thrive.

Again for the second time, the state run printing press found itself to be the maker and breaker of the free flow of information in the country. A printing price hike of up to 50% is testing the survival of the fledgling private press. Some relate the price hike with the government’s decision to devaluate the local currency which ended up in rocketing the prices of everything that is on the market. But others consider the latest price hike as a plot by the government to finally push the papers to fold without directly confronting them. The reason being given here is that the ruling party is afraid of an unrest that is unfolding in North Africa and the Middle East.

Not to surrender…

Because of the price hike, papers could be costing anywhere between ETB 7 and 10, from the current average of 5. In a country where the next meal is always a challenge, papers could hardly count among the top priority of the people. With readers not affording, most newspapers face the grim reality of folding. Publishers cannot seek cheaper alternatives as BSPP is almost the only one when it comes to the publication of periodicals.

Despite the “double digit economic growth” no printing press in the country is capable of handling daily or weekly publications in a sustained manner. As a result, more than 90% of the country’s periodicals are published there, which puts all the eggs in one basket. The day something happens to the printing house, the country may as well wake up to a paperless day.

As a solution to the problem, some of the publishers have organized themselves to request the concerned bodies to temporarily hold the new rates. Others who think the move is eminent have started crying for help.

The weekly Awramba Times (AT), whose editor was the winner of International Press Freedom award, is testing the digital water by requesting its online readers in the Diaspora to subscribe for the electronics copy of the paper to be emailed in PDF format. With a Dollar per issue, AT is not asking too much from their esteemed readers. Whether they succeed in raising funds is yet to be tested. Their ingenuity, however, needs to be commended.

Politics of ads

Ads are the lifelines of almost all media outlets. With the huge cost of running periodicals, ads are the only major source of income that could compensate for the expenses and for the survival of journalists. Hence, no serious paper exists without them. The sale of newspapers cannot make for revenues to cover expenses.
Though most Ethiopian private newspapers survived without ads, it was a task so arduous that in some cases the papers were compromised. Street vendors managed to peddle influence over content and titles.

While there are businesses that could benefit from ads placed in the papers, the business community is cowed into giving ads only to party affiliated publications or pro government newspapers.

Advertisement has been one of the instruments that the government communication office wanted to use to lure influential newspapers to their side. And to make them follow the ruling party idea of development journalism, which in the Ethiopian context is about turning a blind eye on gross human rights violations; singing praise to the “dear leader” and the miracles he has presided over; keeping silence on the rampant corruption that has plagued the power structure; and the likes.

Not so long ago there was a plan conceived by the Office of Communications Affairs headed by Mr Bereket Simon. The plan was to make the private papers write their stories like the government ones in return for advertisement to be given to them from public enterprises. The four major public companies namely: The Ethiopian Airlines, Ethio Telecom, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation and the Commercial Bank were to be ordered to allocate budget for ads in private papers. The communication office wanted to use that for propaganda consumption. On one hand they would say there is free press in the country, on the other they would make sure the so called private press would be controlled through the ad money. It is not yet clear how that scheme is going.

In a tacit affirmation of that plan the government spokesperson, Mr Shimeles Kemal, in a remark he made last week said: “The price hike will not affect those who get ad revenues.” We bet it won’t!

  1. lucy in america
    | #1

    How Christian Ethiopia (Abyssinia) saved Islam
    By Kamran Pasha | December 26, 2009



    The following must-read article by Kamran Pasha, author of Mother of the Believers, narrates how a Christian Ethiopian emperor turned down gifts in order to send back the first Muslim believers who had fled persecution in their native land, crossed the Red Sea, and sought shelter in the Christian Kingdom of Abyssinia (modern-day Ethiopia). (Photo shows Debre-Libanos Monastery nestled in the lush greenery of central Ethiopia: Ethiopian Tourism)

    As a writer, I have always appreciated how Christmas is a time for great storytelling. Some of the most moving parables ever told have been inspired by this special time of year. A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens continues to touch the heart, 166 years after it was first published. The journey of Ebenezer Scrooge from cruel miser to loving community man strikes a chord in the human spirit, and has led to numerous film adaptations, including the most recent CGI bonanza by Robert Zemeckis.

    Other important works that reflect the Christmas message of love and giving are O. Henry’s short story The Gift of the Magi, where a husband and wife each part with their most treasured possessions to give a gift to each other, only to discover that each has given away what was needed to enjoy the other’s present. The husband sold his beloved pocket watch to buy a jeweled comb, only to learn that his wife has cut her luxurious hair and sold it to a wigmaker in order to buy him a watch chain. That story still manages to bring tears to my eyes, which is perhaps the essence of any good Christmas tale.

    While those are familiar stories to millions of people, I would like to share a Christmas story that many people today do not know. The true story of how the tale of Jesus and Mary saved the nascent religion of Islam from annihilation.

    In my novel, Mother of the Believers, I recount this remarkable story. Six hundred years after the birth of Jesus Christ, the once tiny and persecuted faith founded in his name had become a global power. Christianity had become the official state religion of the Roman Empire and its successor, Byzantium. But as Jesus warned, power corrupts, and his simple message of love for God and humanity had been eclipsed by the cruel politics of governing an empire.

    Christianity at the time was threatened by both external enemies and internal division. The Byzantines were locked in a struggle of superpowers with the neighboring Persian Empire, and millions were dying in the never-ending state of war between these two societies. Internally, arguments about theology had split the Church into a variety of factions and sects, each claiming to properly understand the nature of Christ and his teachings. Groups like the Egyptian Copts that failed to follow the “official” theological line coming out of Rome and Byzantium were persecuted by their fellow Christians. Jews were prohibited from living in Jerusalem and suffered mightily under the yoke of their Christian overlords.

    Yet in the midst of this turbulent time, something unusual was happening in the desert wastes of Arabia. The Arabs had for centuries lived outside the boundaries of civilization, ignored by the great empires around them as nomadic herders with no government and limited social order based on tribal affiliation. There were no courts of law, and justice was meted out through the tribal principle of retaliation. If a member of a powerful tribe killed someone from another strong clan, a blood feud would ensue between the two groups, continuing sometimes for generations. But if someone came from a poor family, from a weak tribe, there would be no one to come to their aid or avenge any injustice against them. Women were regularly subjected to rape by bandits and raiders, and infant girls were often buried alive by fathers angry that their wives had not given them sons.

    Poverty and illiteracy was the norm, and survival of the fittest the only principle of life. Religion had had little to offer to alleviate the suffering of the people; indeed the religious life of Arabia added to its misery. The Arabs worshipped a pantheon of competing gods, nature spirits that they prayed to but which offered little back in terms of spiritual comfort, and no hope for any life past the grave. The profound truths that Jesus Christ had proclaimed of faith being about service and love for mankind had not penetrated into the hearts of these hardened desert survivors, and the idea of religion being the basis for charity and social justice was beyond their comprehension.

    The world of 7th century Arabia would have made modern day Afghanistan look like an advanced civilization.

    And yet despite its primitive state of affairs, something truly remarkable was happening in Arabia at that time. A man named Muhammad had a vision of the Angel Gabriel telling him that God had sent him as a Prophet to lead the Arabs out of darkness into light. That the time had come that the children of Abraham though his son Ishmael rejoin their father’s community by worshipping the One God, the God of Moses and Jesus. A God of love and justice, who enjoined charity and mercy among mankind. A God who commanded men to treat women with honor and to protect their children, not bury them alive.

    The Prophet’s message was met as a new faith always is — with derision and ridicule. The wealthy oligarchs of his city Mecca found his admonitions to give to the poor offensive, his call for an end to the blood feuds and the cruel traditions of their ancestors an insult to their culture. And more importantly, Muhammad’s proclamation of One God was a direct threat to their pocketbooks. Mecca had become the center of trade in the region, as it hosted the Kaaba, an ancient shrine once built by Abraham for his God, but now dedicated to the local tribal deities. The annual pilgrimage when Arabs from all over the peninsula came to worship their gods at the Kaaba brought in huge revenue — and the Prophet’s proclamation that these deities were illusory was a dagger at the heart of Mecca’s wealth.

    The early followers of Prophet Muhammad were, not surprisingly, from the poor and the weak. Those who had no protection from the ravages of society found hope in the new movement, known as Islam, which meant simply “to surrender oneself to God” — the essential teaching of all of God’s messengers, from Abraham through Jesus Christ. And yet, as persecution worsened, and Meccans began to attack and kill the Muslims (“those who had surrendered to God”), it became clear that the movement had to escape from the clutches of the tribal lords and find safety elsewhere.

    Many may be familiar with the “hijrah” or “emigration” — the famous moment in 622 C.E. when Prophet Muhammad escaped from Mecca and established a community in the oasis of Medina to the north. From there, Islam blossomed and become a global religion and civilization within only a few years. The hijrah was the turning point of Islam, and Muslims to this day mark it as Year 1 of their calendar.

    Yet the hijrah to Medina was not the first emigration in Islam. It was the second.

    And our Christmas story begins with that first emigration, to the Christian kingdom of Abyssinia, in modern day Ethiopia.

    In 615 C.E., five years after the prophet’s first vision of Gabriel, persecution of the Muslims had become a life-and-death matter. A Muslim woman named Sumaya, the first martyr of Islam, had been publicly murdered by a Meccan tribal chief. The weakest members of the community, such as the African slave Bilal, were subjected to torture. And the Arab chieftains were coming together to proclaim a ban of trade with the Muslims, prohibiting citizens of Mecca from providing food and medicine to members of the new movement.

    Facing the very real possibility of extinction, a small group of Muslims led by the Prophet’s daughter Ruqayya and his son-in-law Uthman, escaped Meccan patrols and managed to get to the Red Sea, where they fled to Abyssinia by boat. They sought the protection of the Negus, the Christian king who had a reputation for justice.

    The Meccan chieftains were outraged when they learned of the Muslim escape to Abyssinia. Trade with Africa was important to their economic power, and the arrival of dissident Arabs in the Abyssinian court could create an embarrassing diplomatic problem. The tribal lords dispatched Amr ibn al-As, a respected merchant who had befriended the Negus, to recover the Muslim refugees before they could harm Mecca’s image with its trading partners.

    Amr arrived with expensive gifts and honeyed words for the Negus. He advised the king that the Muslim refugees were criminals and asked that they be repatriated to Mecca. The Negus was concerned that he could be harboring troublemakers in his kingdom and summoned the Muslim refugees to his court to answer the allegations.

    It was a tense moment, as the Muslims were brought before the Negus and the Meccan delegation. If things went badly, they would be handed over to Amr to be taken back against their will. In reality, they knew that once they were in Amr’s hands, they would probably never see Mecca. In all likelihood, they would be killed long before they reached their erstwhile home.

    When the Muslims responded that they were not criminals but victims of religious persecution, the Negus asked: “What is this religion wherein you have become separate from your people, though you have not entered my religion nor that of any other of the folk that surround us?”

    The Prophet’s cousin Ja’far, known for his eloquent speech, stepped forward and said:

    “O King, we were people steeped in ignorance, worshiping idols, eating unsacrificed carrion, committing abominations, and the strong would devour the weak. Thus we were, until God sent us a Messenger from out of our midst, one whose lineage we knew, and his veracity and his worthiness of trust and his integrity. He called us unto God, that we should testify to His Oneness and worship Him and renounce what we and our fathers had worshiped in the way of stones and idols; and he commanded us to speak truly, to fulfill our promises, to respect the ties of kinship and the rights of our neighbors, and to refrain from crimes and from bloodshed. So we worship God alone, setting naught beside Him, counting as forbidden what He has forbidden and as licit what He has allowed. For these reasons have our people turned against us, and have persecuted us to make us forsake our religion and revert from the worship of God to the worship of idols. That is why we have come to your country, having chosen you above all others; and we have been happy in your protection, and it is our hope, O King, that here with you we shall not suffer wrong.”

    The Negus, a devout Christian, was intrigued by Ja’far’s words and asked him if this Prophet had brought a scripture like the messengers of old. Ja’far nodded, saying that their Scripture was the Qur’an, which means recitation in Arabic. The Negus asked them to recite from their holy book.

    And Ja’far recited for them a verse that had been revealed to the Prophet about the birth of Jesus Christ, who was revered as one of God’s messenger’s by the Muslims.

    “And make mention of Mary in the Book, when she withdrew from her people unto a place towards the east, and secluded herself from them; and We sent unto her Our Spirit, and it appeared unto her in the likeness of a perfect man. She said: I take refuge from you in the Infinitely Good, if any piety you have. He said: I am none other than a messenger from your Lord that I may bestow on you a son most pure. She said: How can there be for me a son, when no man has touched me, nor am I unchaste? He said: Even so shall it be; your Lord says: It is easy for Me. That We may make him a sign for mankind and a mercy from Us; and it is a thing ordained.” (19:16-21)

    The Negus was deeply moved to hear the story of Christ’s miraculous conception in the Muslim scripture. He said to his guests:

    “This has truly come from the same source as that which Jesus brought.”

    The Meccans became alarmed. The shared love for Jesus and Mary had created a bond between the Christians and Muslims that threatened to disrupt the Meccan scheme. Amr, who knew that the Muslims saw Jesus as a human messenger of God rather than a divine being, quickly tried to create a rift between the two communities.

    “O King, they utter an enormous lie about Jesus the son of Mary. They call him a slave!”

    The Abyssinian priests gasped at this apparent blasphemy. The Christian king tensed. He turned to the Muslims with a frown.

    “What do you say about Jesus?”

    Ja’far could only tell the truth.

    “We say of him what our Prophet brought unto us, that he is the servant of God and His Messenger and His Spirit and His Word which He cast unto Mary the blessed virgin.”

    A tense silence fell on the crowd. And then the Negus smiled.

    For him, the differences between Christian and Muslim visions of Jesus were just semantics. He had tired of the kind of theological disputes that had torn apart his fellow Christians and had led to never-ending accusations of heresy and warfare between competing Christian groups. Arguments over complicated theologies about the nature of Christ were not what mattered to him as a Christian. What mattered was that God had sent Jesus Christ to teach humanity love. And the Muslims clearly loved Jesus Christ.

    “Go your ways, for you are safe in my land. Not for mountains of gold would I harm a single man of you.”

    And then he sent his attendant to the Meccan envoys.

    “Return unto these two men their gifts, for I have no use for them.”

    And in that moment, Islam found its first refuge. In a Christian land, under the protection of a Christian king who viewed Muslims as his brothers and sisters.

    The history of Christianity’s relationship with Islam has not always been so cordial. From the Crusades to the horrors of September 11th, both communities have committed atrocities against the other.

    And yet it was not so at the beginning. And perhaps it will not be so at the end.

    For me as a Muslim, this story of how Christians and Muslims could get past theology and see the truth in each other’s hearts is one of the most beautiful tales to unite our communities as we struggle to define faith in the 21st century.

    And like the story of Christmas itself, I believe that the tale of the Christian king and the Muslim refugees is not just a memory of a time long past. It is, I hope, a vision of a world still to come. A world that will be built by sincere people of faith, who care more about love for humanity than about the triumph of their own tribe or theology.

    It is, God-willing, a prophecy.

    On behalf of your Muslim brothers and sisters, I wish you all a joyous Christmas.

    Kamran Pasha is a Hollywood filmmaker and the author of Mother of the Believers, a novel on the birth of Islam as told by Prophet Muhammad’s wife Aisha (Atria Books; April 2009). For more information please visit:

  2. Sam
    | #2

    There are ample evidence to prove within a few years in Ethiopia independent newspapers will be a thing of the past. A few years ago, I was in Addis. Even then compared to the people income, the price of newspapers is high. The remedy to mitigate the inabilty to buy was created by the newspapers sellers: Readers pay almost 1/5th of the newspaper price to read and return the paper. I found it to be a very interesting business plan.I figured the newspapers sellers might make more money that way. In fact, I participated with this new an only Ethiopian invention. But for the newspapers publishers it is another economic blow. That was in fact exactly what the EPDRF politicos intended to happen: Making publishing independent newspapers very costly. They might close the shops, and the government run newspapers will fill the void. But nobody reads Addis Zemen. In Piassa there is only one shop that sold Addis Zemen. There might be another one, however, despite my persistence search I did not find. For a few days, I stood in front of the store to see how busy the lady at the shop was. I am not exaggerating. I do not want to. Within three days, I had spent three hours watching the lady and her store, this was a government run store, and the lasdy was an employee. I had not seen a single customer of hers, except me. I was very much confused. I mean at least you think an EPDRF cadre or two might show up to wake the lady up from her sound sleep and buy newspapers. It did not happen. I told my friends my experience. Well, my friends said, the government had a way of making you seeing the newspapers, even though they did not pull a gun on you and force you to read it. How? I asked. Every government ministry– you know that everything is government run, so practically everywhere– will be delivered with Addis Zemen. Do people read when the newspapers delivered to their work place? No, they replied. So why do they deliver? They have to say the government had such amount of newspapers circulation to counterattack the popularity of the independent newspapers. Even if people not read them? I asked. What is that had to do with competing with the independent newspapers in numbers of circulation, my friends responded. I got the message. The killing of independent newspapers was going on for a while. It seems now EPDRF is in the final phase of closing down the shops. What will happen to those despite their inability to pay wait a week to read an impartial newspapers, renting not buying? Well, the government cannot be trusted to deliver news, and they feed on gossips for survival.

  3. kentu
    | #3

    Please don’t tray to walk up the dead man he cant lesson you. That is wast time almost i try myself for the last 20 amharic we have a proverb say አውኮ የተና ሰው ቢከስክሱት አይሰማም.The people knows that weyane is selling land ,child,port,divided the nation through ethnic line ,create fake opposition parties,send Ethiopian mothers to Arab through their agent as a slave,send soldiers to invade neighboring countries like somalia, kenya congo ,liberia so ON don’t blame weyane that is our weakness. so we are dead but still we eat ,walk,and talk.

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