The New Yorker, Mr. Obama and freedom – By Yilma Bekele

July 16th, 2008 Print Print Email Email

The New Yorker magazine had a very interesting, tasteless, hateful and satirical cover on its current issue. Everybody has an opinion about it. As they say in the New Yorker, it is the talk of the town. It is a sneaky way of getting attention, if you ask me. Mr. Obama was not amused. His response to the New Yorker gives us an insight into how he approaches the world.

He can sue the New Yorker for defamation and other charges his lawyers can concoct. He can ignore the insult to himself and to his wife, and if you really want to blow it out of proportion you can include the insult to blacks and all Muslims. He can shrug it off. He chooses to shrug it off. (more…)

The New Yorker magazine had a very interesting, tasteless, hateful and satirical cover on its current issue. Everybody has an opinion about it. As they say in the New Yorker, it is the talk of the town. It is a sneaky way of getting attention, if you ask me. Mr. Obama was not amused. His response to the New Yorker gives us an insight into how he approaches the world.

He can sue the New Yorker for defamation and other charges his lawyers can concoct. He can ignore the insult to himself and to his wife, and if you really want to blow it out of proportion you can include the insult to blacks and all Muslims. He can shrug it off. He chooses to shrug it off.
The New Yorker editors are lucky. They have the freedom to print what they believe is in good taste and satirical even at the expense of offending quiet a few folks. The law protects them. Mr. Obama neither today as a candidate, nor tomorrow as the President can stop their press because he does not like what they are writing about him. A sure sign of a civilized society.

We cannot say the same thing about the editors of Asqual, Menilik, Satenaw, Ethiop and other independent newspapers in Ethiopia. They were closed because some in authority did not like the content of the newspapers. The editors were imprisoned for exercising their right to inform. Their property was confiscated and they were fined large amount of money as punishment for publishing their honest opinion. You can also look at the bright side. Some of their fellow editors and publishers have died under mysterious circumstances while others have escaped out of the country in the cover of darkness. A few are not safe in the neighboring countries. One has to cross the ocean to escape from the Agazi Special Forces designed for revenge and coercion.

Mr. Obama exhibited his leadership quality and the responsibility that come with it. Mr. Obama could have used the occasion to rally his forces and go against the New Yorker and its editors. He could have called on blacks and Muslims to show their righteous indignation. He could have exploited the issue for his own narrow gains. He did none of this. Creating division between people is not good leadership quality. A leader unites people and galvanizes them to aim higher and reach farther. Mr. Obama showed his confidence on his fellow citizen’s ability to make his own sound judgment.

On the other hand the Ethiopian government under the leadership of Ato Meles Zenawi follows a different approach towards ‘freedom of the press’. The Ethiopian government believes the news should be regulated and filtered before it reaches the consumer. Since coming to power the government has enacted various laws and regulations to control the flow of information. It allows a few so-called media outlets as long as they agree to submit to strict guidelines and accept the authority of party cadres to have the final say. Working outside these parameters brings out swift and harsh punishment.

Thus in today’s Ethiopia the news business is the sole property of the one party state. There are no independent Television stations. There are no independent radio stations. There are no independent Internet service providers. There are no independent phone companies. The very few independent newspapers and periodicals operate under the constant strain of immanent closure or jail for perceived digressions.

The Ethiopian government very well knows knowledge is power. It is willing to trade the curse of famines and poverty rather than having a well-informed and conscious citizen. The government spends millions on technology to jam short wave radio broadcasts from the US and Germany. It invests large amounts of money to block Ethiopian web sites based outside the country. The regime wastes taxpayer’s money on eavesdropping on telephone conversation of its citizens.

Foreign technology to achieve all this control is not cheap. It has to be paid in cash and in foreign currency. It requires skilled people to operate and maintain this machinery. They have to be trained. They have to be paid for their services. It is a big investment.

It is a choice the government is willing to make. Is it better to invest on fiber optic lines to wire the country and use the new technology of World Wide Web to teach our children? To have one computer in every classroom so they could participate and listen to free lectures from MIT, Stanford or Berkeley. So the farmer can visually learn better methods, improved hygiene, and price quotes from afar. There is limited resource. The money can be used for jamming signals or buying computer. The choice is between investing in buying foreign advanced armaments, invading a neighbor, garrisoning thousands of solders in a hostile territory and protect them, feed them and transport them or train health officers to go to villages and administer medicine. The choice is between blackmailing businessmen (http://addisvoice.com/article/at_a_time_of_huger.htm) to contribute for building a cadre training school or galvanizing all Ethiopians inside and outside to contribute to build a technology center to teach our children and prepare them for new century.

It is all about leadership. It is all about priorities. It is all about investing for the future. It is all about where our country will be in the next five, ten, twenty years. Ethiopia at peace with itself and its neighbors and leading East Africa in technology, education and healthcare or Ethiopia the perpetual sick, weak, irrelevant and on welfare. We as individuals have a choice to make too. Are we the lucky ones going to get involved in our country’s affairs as a positive force or sit back and watch the disintegration? Are we going to be part of the problem or roll our sleeves and contribute however small it might look? To care and act on it is a very fulfilling. To be indifferent does nobody good. It is difficult to hide from one’s conscious. You know nobody can do it as good as you. Well?

I like Mr. Obama’s way. It is better to trust the wisdom and sensibility of my fellow citizen to make what he believes is the right choice after being exposed to all kind of news and views. As the saying goes ‘ye shall learn the truth, and the truth shall set ye free!”

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