Democratization of Media: The Next Major Oromo Agenda
Begna Dugassa, Ph.D
In my previous work, I identified that the media has eight major functions (see Dugassa, 2016). It informs, educates, entertains, molds opinion, advocates, provides a framework of thinking, records events and connects people and ideas. In the paper my argument is that when the media provide news and news analyses in the simplest form, it is providing information. The consumers of the information convert this over the long term into data. As individuals and groups analyze the data they generate knowledge. This creates more knowledgeable citizens in society. As more and more citizens became knowledgeable, society becomes wiser and wiser.
Knowledge and power are intertwined. Media is essential if knowledgeable, empowered citizens, and a progressive and healthy society are wanted. As the media informs, educates, entertains, molds opinion, advocates, provides a framework of thinking, records events and connects people and ideas it creates specific types of knowledge. This knowledge could be emancipatory or colonial. For this reason, control over the media is one of the areas where the forces that promote social transformation (change) and promote statuesque contests. For over a century the Oromo people have been struggling to have their own media. Although the struggle of the Oromo people to have their own media has not fully achieved, the idea of democratizing the media has not yet started. The next major Oromo agenda should be widening their choices and advancing media democratization.
What do I mean democratization of Media?
Knowledge is socially constructed. What constitutes news, and the perspective in which news analyses are framed are depend on the social location of the policy makers of the news agency. News agencies frame stories in a specific way and condition people to see through a specific lens. If society does not have multiple media, it will result in the dissemination of information that carries only half- truths. This is the case for the Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) whose media misinform and distort. In extreme cases, media can be used to indoctrinate citizens. Having multiple media widens people’s choices and the scope through which they see the world around them i.e. their social realities and the natural world. Widening the scope of people creates empowered and critical citizens and prevents people from becoming indoctrinated. This helps people to better understand their own reality. In addition, the democratization of media allows multiple narratives to be aired. Accumulated knowledge is essential for a healthy, stable and transformative society.
Let me give few concrete examples. The EBC news usually over- emphasizes the growth of the Ethiopian economy—it shows the emerging high-rise buildings in major cities. EBC avoids mentioning the number of people killed, imprisoned, evicted from their homes and those who had become homeless and commercial sex workers. EBC avoids talking about who is getting rich and getting poor or homeless. EBC promotes Federated/united Ethiopia and wants us to believe the economic growth is good for every citizens. EBC is intended to produce citizens who think that evicting Oromo farmers from their homes, and enriching a few Tigray elites i.e the members of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) are natural and inevitable processes of economic growth.
The media controlled by the Oromo Peoples Democratic Organization (OPDO) was silent for a long time about the killings, imprisonment, evictions and impoverishment of the Oromo people and the enrichment of Tigray elites. Now these media started to openly talk about financial corruption without naming the causes – political corruption. Political corruption creates favorable conditions for financial corruption. The OPDOs avoid mentioning the root causes of corruption because they know that when the TPLF organized them, the TPLF was intended to legalize the eviction of the Oromo people, enrich themselves and ease financial corruption. Indeed, corruption first began when the TPLF formed the OPDOs. The second stage of corruption is when the TPLF declared the formation of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Fronts (EPRDF) and claimed to have equal status in the coalition. In the EPRDF coalition, the TPLF- that only represents five percent of the population- claimed an equal voice in the party with the OPDOs that theoretically represents over 40-50 percent of the population. The third stage of corruption is when the EPRDF claimed to have won one hundred percent of the seats in the election. The media controlled by the OPDO is avoiding talking about political corruption.
The diaspora- based emerging Oromo media for good reasons focus on the number of people killed, imprisoned, displaced, impoverished, and homeless as well as on the magnitude of the corruption. Although they have communalities in understanding the problems, their differences are becoming clear when it comes to envisioning strategies to address these problems. The Oromo Media Network (OMN) focuses on civil disobedience. For the OMN the need of a formal visible organizational structure- if it is not irrelevant- it is less important. Accordingly, OMN is producing news and news analyses focusing on core objectives—civil disobedience and horizontal organizational structure. The absence of a vertical command structure has created a major challenge for the TPLF government in containing the social movement in Oromia.
The Oromo News Network (ONN) focuses on the need to get organized and act in an organized form. Although the ONN values civic obedience, it sees that horizontal organizational structure does not guarantee the desired changes and smooth transitions. The ONN news and news analyses focus on the need to get organized in vertical (structured) and horizontal (unstructured) forms.
Why do we need to advance the democratization of media?
To answer this question let us explore what others have said about media.
The media’s the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Malcolm X
I do not expect the white media to create positive black male images. Huey Newton
The words of Malcolm X and Huey Newton clearly suggest that the dominant white media is not set up to capture, analyze and rightfully present the experiences and perspective of African- Americans. The statement is not claiming that African American media would do any better in capturing, analyzing and presenting the experience of white Americans. It is simply saying that the dominant media encompasses the views, perspectives and interests of the dominant groups in the institution. The observation presented by those African-American human right activists, on the one hand, are telling us that the Oromo people need to develop their own media. On the other hand, it is telling the Oromo people that having a single media to represent them will make them prone to political manipulation and indoctrination.
In understanding the importance of the media in the social transformation of the society and minimizing the unwanted effects, in the Western world the media is governed in a specific ethics. The Oromo people need to learn from the experiences of the Western world and work to develop their own ethics. Until they develop their own governing ethics, they need to expect- from the international and Oromo media- the principles set in journalism and challenge media that violates those ethics. The five major identified essential principles set to govern media are: accuracy, independence, impartiality, accountability and humanity.
When the media ethics underline the importance of accuracy, it is implying that all stories have more than one side. Unless media members make the effort to capture all angles, the stories will be one- sided, partial or prone to bias. This necessitates that Oromo reporters make optimum efforts to get accurate information and encompass all narratives.
The second important governing ethic in media is journalistic independence. To report freely and accurately the journalist needs to be protected from political pressure, a corporate agenda and interest groups interferences.
The third major principle of media is impartiality. One of the objectives of the Oromo people’s struggle to develop their own media is to overcome and tackle the long-standing biased reports of the EBC- the Ethiopian media. The Oromo people need to demand impartiality from the international media and their own media. They need to demand from their own media impartiality from political, religious and regional affiliations. Providing accurate knowledge and making knowledgeable and critical citizens are dependent on the accuracy and impartiality of the reports.
Accountability is one the major identified principles that should govern media. Accountability implies that a journalist needs to be held accountable for the accuracy of his/her reports. If there are errors in the content of the report they are expected to correct the narratives. The media as a system gives enormous power to individuals and institutions and accountability is vital. Just as it can help societies to be healed, the media can perpetuate enormous damage. To deliberately make media promote social transformation it necessitates being accountable.
We human beings are profoundly social beings and the narratives presented in news and news analyses influences others. In understanding the short and long-term impacts of narratives, one of the governing principles of media is humanity. The principle of humanity suggests that the reports should be done having in mind their impacts.
As I briefly mentioned above when I compared the OMN and ONN, they have differences in their focuses. They are able to attract different followers. Diverse perspectives enrich society. Democratizing the media widens people choices. It helps societies to have balanced and well-grounded news and news analyses. This empowers people and make them critical citizens. In addition, having multiple media agencies allows for diverse views and perspectives compete. Minority groups in particular benefit from this, especially if the goal is to have an equitable, stable, transparent and sustainable society. Furthermore, it is essential for the democratization of the society and guarantees social transformation.
The Oromo people are at a tipping point. Ideas and words communicated by the media spread like fire or an air- borne virus. The Oromo people need to invest more into their media and guarantee the accuracy, independence, impartiality, accountability and humanity of the news and news analyses. To achieve this the Oromo people need to diversify their sources of information and at the same time guarantee that their media advances positive, transformative and uniting messages. If the Oromo media is limited and controlled by a handful of individuals, the core governing ethics of journalism i.e. accuracy, independence, impartiality, accountability and humanity might be compromised. Democratization of media should be the way forward.