The Guardian, a Newspaper or a Tabloid? – By Yilma Bekele

January 27th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

‘The Guardian’ is a very old and respected Newspaper in The United Kingdom. It was know as ‘The Manchester Guardian’ when it was founded in 1821. It was categorized as a liberal voice. CP Scott, a very respected editor, wrote the following in an article written to celebrate the centenary of the paper, “comment is free, but facts are sacred …the voice of opponents no less than the friends has a right to be heard.”

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‘The Guardian’ is a very old and respected Newspaper in The United Kingdom. It was know as ‘The Manchester Guardian’ when it was founded in 1821. It was categorized as a liberal voice. CP Scott, a very respected editor, wrote the following in an article written to celebrate the centenary of the paper, “comment is free, but facts are sacred …the voice of opponents no less than the friends has a right to be heard.”


So it is with great interest that I read the Guardian Interview with Ato Meles on its January 24th. Web Issue. I have no quarrel with the paper interviewing the Prime Minister, that is the job of the Media. I do have a complaint with Mr. Simon Tisdall, the reporter. I assumed the job of the reporter was to have a meaningful conversation with the newsmaker and to faithfully inform the public without editorializing. An interview done by a professional should let the interviewee speak his mind, and it should also steer the conversation towards meaningful dialogue. A reporter should be careful not show his bias. A reporter’s code of conduct includes the following advice to the journalist: “…distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.” It is a disservice tot the reader when a reporter injects their uninformed and biased opinion and presents them as facts. Opinions and interpretations belong in the ‘Editorial page’ where they are clearly labeled as such. Mr. Tisdale’s article was more of a cheerleader or a spokesperson than a reporter working for such a distinguished paper as the Guardian.

Ato Meles was interviewed about the recent elections in Kenya and the consequences of cheating by the ‘Kibaki’ regime. With the world is a witness, the daylight robbery by the party in power has angered the Kenyan electorate and we could attribute over 600 deaths and around 20,000 internally displaced citizens. The heavy-handed action by the Kenyan police against protesters has been a subject of condemnation by all those concerned with Human Rights and with good governance. Western governments have been forced to mumble threats of economic sanctions and grant withholdings. The Kenyan opposition is using the carrot and stick approach to deal with Mr. Kibaki. They have agreed to resolve the crisis through meditation, while at the same time the have reserved their right to peaceful assembly and protest until the voice of the people is heard.

The exclusive talk with Mr. Tisdale was held against this background. It is a most revealing interview to say the least. Here are a few quotes from the Prime Minister where he interprets what the soft demand by the Western countries for the Kenyan regime to respect the wish of the citizen’s mean:

“What it does do is give the impression that Africans democratise in response to development assistance and all you have to do is close the taps and they will sit up and behave like proper schoolchildren. That is very unfortunate and quite demeaning.”

“The threat of western sanctions as a response to the current crisis in Kenya is very, very misguided,” Meles said. “If it is presumed that the Kenyans will democratise in order to eat the peanuts of development assistance from the European Union, for example, it would be a big mistake.”

And Mr. Tisdale continues to report, “In a sudden burst of intellectual firepower”, Meles said:
“We believe democracy cannot be imposed from outside in any society. Democracy is the expression of a sovereign people. To impose it from outside is inherently undemocratic. Each sovereign nation has to make its own decisions and have its own criteria as to how they govern themselves.”

The interview raises a lot of troubling question in the minds of the Ethiopians, who are in the front line of this kind of thinking and philosophy. As we all know, our country is one of the founding members of the United Nations, thus it should and must abide by all International laws and treaties. Member countries are expected to respect the fundamental rights of their citizens. The UN has acted appropriately when member Nations digress from this agreed upon civilized behavior. Thus the UN has occasionally taken action to restrict and disrupt economic ties with what is termed as ‘rogue’ nations. South Africa, Rhodesia, Israel, Portugal and recently Serbia Montenegro and Iraq have been at the receiving end of such action. As we all know, imposing sanctions have always resulted in a change of behavior by the offending country.

When the honorable Prime Minster claims that such threat of economic embargo against Kenya by Countries and Regional Organizations to be ‘misguided’, I beg to differ. Demanding that the Apartheid regime of South Africa respect the rights of the majority black population was a just and correct decision. Forcing Portugal to sit and negotiate with both MPLA and FRELIMO was the right and moral thing to do. Forcing Sadam Hussein to withdraw from Kuwait and dangle the threat of force if he did not abide by UN resolution was reflecting the wish of the International community. The people of Kenya have a fundamental right to have their voice heard. The Kenyan government has the duty to respect the wish of the majority. If the Kenyan government, due to its control of the Police and the Military resorts to assert its authority using coercion, the UN and other regional organizations have the right to interfere on behalf of the people. The UN’s action on the side of the majority should be welcomed with open arms.

Africans choose the path of ‘Democracy’ because human history has proven that it is the only way for a country to safeguard the needs and welfare of its most important asset, its people! We do not yet have a single instant of a country being highly developed in the absence of a democratic form of government. Autocratic regimes might be able to have ‘the train run on time’, but the quality of life is not a subject they like to discuss. Currently in Africa we are faced with the absence of duly elected leaders that respect the wish of the people. It is quite rare that our leaders will finish their terms of office and retire with honor and thanks from their subjects. What Mr. Kibaki is trying to do is nothing new in Africa. What is ‘demeaning’ here is that our African leaders are forcing us to ask the West to stop funding much needed help due to the action of a few power hungry tyrants. The ‘threat of sanction’ is the only sure method that will force the Kibaki regime to sit at the negotiating table and resolve the crisis it manufactured. The question is not about ‘imposing democracy from outside’. That question has been settled since the Kenyan electorate has already exercised true democracy when they voted on December 28th.

The only problem we have here is the Kibaki regime vainly trying to extend its illegal rule by using the gun instead of the ballot. The opposition ODM has shown its resolute stand regarding the demand to respect the voice of the people. The people have shown their solidarity with the party that they have chosen to govern them. The role of the international community is to stand with the Kenyan people and force the regime to cease and desist from its ill-advised illegal and criminal action. ODM might not have the correct solutions to Kenya’s problems, but it is the party that won the majority. In four years time Kenyans will have another chance to decide who the next leader will be. This is the only way forward.

As for Mr. Tisdale it seems like working in Africa has desensitized him to the agony any plight of the continent. The statement ‘he (the PM) has also faced sharp criticism over alleged human rights abuses and the violent crackdown that followed his victory in the last multi-party general election in 2005’ is not some little incident to be dismissed so lightly. I strongly suggest that Mr. Tisdale talk to the Honorable Donald Payne of the US Congress, the Honorable Anna Gomez of the European Parliament, the Honorable Judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha, Vice-Chairman of the Inquiry Commission on Post-Electoral Violence in Ethiopia and my good friend Professor Al Mariam of California State University San Bernardino. They will be happy to explain to him about the sacred value of human life and the dire consequences of abuse of power.

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