Deutsche Welle Amharic faces damning allegations
Ethiopian journalist and broadcaster Mesay Mekonnen has alleged that Deutsche Welle Amharic is poorly managed and accused the head of irresponsibly putting him and his family in great hardship. “The section’s head and editor-in-chief, Ludger Schadomsky, is very arbitrary, insensitive and authoritarian. He enjoys being feared and putting people and their work at his mercy,” Mekonnen told Addis Voice.
Mekonnen, who joined Deutsche Welle Amharic Service in March 2010, says that his experience at Deutsche Welle has been very depressing, stressful and traumatic. “I was left so impoverished at Deutsche Welle that two kindhearted colleagues of mine even took turns to bring me meals as they were aware of the financial hardship I was facing. It is scandalous that I survived on “food aid” at Deutsche Welle because I could not even afford to buy a decent lunch” he said angrily.
“Though I appreciated the kindness of my colleagues, I deeply felt the indignity of being unable to support myself, my wife and baby boy in Ethiopia,” says Mekonnen.
Mekonnen, who hosted critically acclaimed radio shows in Awassa, was competitively selected to work as a South Ethiopia correspondent for Deutsche Welle in late 2008. But Bereket Simon’s office refused to grant the necessary permit and security clearance to him. After Deutsche Welle’s application to get permits for him failed, Schadomsky retained Mesay as an “informer.”
“If the post as correspondent from Awassa doesn’t work out, I want to go ahead anyway and use you as an anonymous source of information who will give us information on any hot issue in your area and provide us with the telephone numbers of the people involved (police commissioner, kebele head etc.) so we can do follow-ups from here,” Schadomsky emailed Mekonnen.
Despite the fact that Mekonnen knew the risks of working as an informer for a foreign media organization without permit, he was willing to bet on such a “golden” opportunity. “I was ready to risk my life for Deutsche Welle. As an ardent fan of Deutsche Welle broadcasts, I was so happy with the prospect of turning my dream into a reality. I was eager to make any sacrifices,” he said.
A passionate broadcaster, Mekonnen performed well and won respect from his colleagues. But months after he joined Deutsche Welle in Bonn leaving behind his wife and baby boy, he realized that he made the biggest mistake of his life. After he finished his paid internship, he was offered a freelance contract to work for at least three shifts per week. Mekonnen pointed out that the contract was just on paper as he was routinely assigned to do one or two programs that practically made him unable to make ends meet and professionally thrive as he wanted. “I complained numerous times but Schadomsky always blamed budget crisis,” he said.
“At times, he used to remind me that he did me a favor just because he brought me to Germany all the way from Ethiopia.”
In response to Mekonnen’s complaint, Schadomsky wrote in an email: “I have acknowledged your difficult situation many times and have even gone to travel all the way to Awassa to express my concern to your family.” But Mekonnen said that the crisis he was forced to face in the name of employment needed practical solution than expressing concern to my family. “No matter how sever Deutsche Welle’s “budget crisis” could be, I do not believe that such a reputable organization would deliberately mess up my professional and family life. Just 18 months into his married life, Mekonnen left behind a six month old baby boy.
Noting that Deutsche Welle should have put in place a mechanism to guarantee the integrity of the station and the rights of every employee, Mekonnen said that Schadomsky, who does not speak Amharic despite being the head and editor-in-chief of the section, also tends to filter and censor critical comments.
“Ultimately, it is Schadomsky who had the final say. What I have noticed is that there is systematic censorship at Deutsche Welle.” It has become evident that Schadomsky was bending to pressures from dictator Meles Zenawi’s right-hand man, Bereket Simon.
In an email he circulated to staffers, he wrote: “It has come to my attention that in invidual [sic ]cases correspondents publish guest articles in online or print media, ethiomedia.com being one of them.
“You will be well aware of the close monitoring of the Ethiopian government of any activities by our staff members perceived to be “opposition activities”. I have a number of names thrown at me by Bereket Simon every time I am in Addis. To spell it out very clearly: Ethiomedia – and similar sites by extension – is NOT a site where I want to see our correspondents displayed with opinion articles! The amount of hatred splashed across that particular medium is a disgrace to any politically sober mind.” According to Mekonnen the email only revealed Schadomky’s poor grasp of the Ethiopian reality and his bias against dissident voices. “After all, websites like Ethiomedia are outlets to ideas, stories and views that are unlikely to see daylight in Ethiopia. But his restriction of freedom of speech has personally offended me and others,” he said.
On Monday, August 1st, Addis Voice will publish a lengthy story on Mesay Mekonnen’s poignant journey from Southern Ethiopian to Bonn, where he faced unimaginable hardship despite being an employee of Deutsche Welle. Our effort to get the perspectives of Schadomsky on this matter did not bear any fruits as he declined comments.