Joint Statement of Oromo Professional and Civic Organizations
To: The Leadership of ESAT
Date: January 20, 2019
Dear ESAT Leadership Team,
We, representatives of Oromo professional and civic organizations, are writing this memo to bring attention to and express our deep concerns about the biased reports being disseminated by ESAT journalists. We recognize ESAT has made notable contributions in the exposing the repression, corruption and human rights violations of the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) regime. ESAT, as a media outlet built and funded by community members, is expected to have a high level of professional ethics, integrity, and fair and balanced reporting from its journalists. Considering how diverse our communities are and our affiliations to a variety of political organizations, we expect ESAT journalists and political analysts to be factual, fair and balanced in their news coverage and political analyses.
Unfortunately, we have seen many inaccurate and inflammatory reports and commentaries on very sensitive and controversial issues on ESAT. Contrary to professional journalistic standards, ESAT’s reports are very often biased and bigoted towards the Oromo people. Its daily analysts, particularly those appearing on the ELETAWI program, promote views of specific political parties and attack Oromo political organizations such the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), respected Oromo professionals and activists. Although ESAT is promoted as an independent media organization, the views of the daily commentators on ELETAWI and other journalists who appear on it suggest that ESAT is a public relations office or a propaganda wing of the Ginbot 7 (G-7) Patriotic party. Our suspicion in this regard was further confirmed by the public admission of Andargachew Tsige, a high ranking official of the G-7 Patriotic party, that his party created ESAT.
We recognize the significance of media not only in educating and transforming society, but also its potential to instigate bigotry and violence. Media can inform, educate, entertain, mold public opinion, advocate for human rights and peace, provide a framework for positive thinking, record events and connect peoples and ideas. But historical evidence also shows how manipulative and dangerous media can be. For example, Nazi media propaganda during World War II promoted racist ideas and ideologies. Similarly, in the case of Rwanda, media were used to propagate bigotry, hate and genocide. Tragically, the Rwandan genocide was instigated by radio and print media that spread fabricated, biased and over exaggerated reports. The RTLM radio and television and Kamgura print media were used as tools to propagate hate and to encourage neighbors to turn against each other. Given this history of how media can poison the minds and hearts of listeners and readers, we want newly emerging private and public media platforms such as ESAT to not repeat such mistakes.
Our concerns about ESAT’s biased, inaccurate, divisive and dangerous reporting is based on numerous instances. We cite the following few examples.
- In July 2018, a report by ESAT journalists on the conflict between the Oromo and the Somali in eastern Ethiopian included inaccurate and gruesome video footage to inflame ethnic clashes and to damage the image of the Oromo people who were actually victims of state-sponsored violence. The BBC exposed this report as one of the biggest examples of fake news in Africa in 2018. Although ESAT had admitted that it propagated unrelated images and fake news, the damage to community relations and the image of the Oromo people had been done and the safety and security of Oromo people in Djibouti and Somalia had been put at risk. As journalists, ESAT reporters should have checked the source of the fake video and authenticated its accuracy before releasing the damaging video clip to its audience to support an inaccurate and dangerous report. Aside from the video, the content of ESAT’s report was a distortion of facts intended to inflame an already tense and violent situation between Oromo and Somali communities. This is a criminal act and ESAT bears full responsibility for the damage done to Oromo communities and the individuals who were attacked as a result of this fabricated and false reporting.
- In their rush to judgment, ESAT’s reporters and commentators also falsely implicated that the OLF was responsible for the assassination attempt of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the public rally on June 22, 2018. This false accusation was made even before the Ethiopian government had issued a preliminary assessment of the incident. However, a subsequent investigation of the incident proved that the attempt was carried out by disgruntled elements within the government security department, and the OLF had nothing to do with the attack. ESAT never recognized nor apologized about its false accusations against the OLF regarding this incident.
- Similarly, in a report on community violence in Burayu, a suburb of Addis Ababa (Finfinnee), in September 2018, ESAT immediately blamed the Oromo youth (Qeerroo) for the violence and the displacement of families. In the meantime, at least one of ESAT commentators on the ELETAWI program openly expressed his effort in mobilizing anti-Oromo youth in Addis Ababa. For example, Mr. Ermias Legesse made an open call to the Addis Ababa youth on the ELETAWI program while the coverage of another ESAT reporter on the ground in Addis Ababa at the time was fabricated, one-sided and biased. Individuals who have provided fabricated stories of killings by Qeerroo to the local media outlet were driven by Oromo-phobia. The reporter organized a discussion of non-Oromo victims, in the presence of Tamagn Beyene, a well-known activist, but ignored the Oromo victims of the same violence. In fact, if the rival community members had acted on the inaccurate reporting of ESAT journalists, the situation could have gotten out of control and a dangerous communal violence could have occurred. Fortunately, the intervention of Oromo and Gamo community leaders and their traditional conflict resolution calmed down their respective community members and mitigated the danger.
- At different times, ESAT journalists have also engaged in intimidation and have attempted to silence prominent and respected Oromo intellectuals, activists and political leaders. For example, last summer, ESAT journalists maliciously attacked Tsegaye Ararsa, a respected lawyer and activist who lives in Australia. An ESAT journalist went to the extent of contacting the university that Dr. Tsegaye attended and tried to access his academic records. Although journalists should aggressively pursue a story to establish the truth and satisfy public interest in their reporting, in this case, the search for the academic records of an individual without any valid journalistic reason is an act of intimidation, not only of Dr. Tsegaye Ararsa but also of other Oromo intellectuals, activists and political leaders. It is also a violation of personal privacy.
- ESAT’s misinformation about Oromo political and civic organizations and its relentless attack on the OLF, in particular, are openly reflected in its daily reports and commentaries. Below we cite some more cases that were reported during the last few months.
- Without corroborating evidence, ESAT journalists have suggested that the OLF is allied with the TPLF and that it is coordinating its activities with the TPLF. They also said that one OLF leader, Colonel Gemechu Ayana, had gone to Mekelle to conclude an agreement and to open a branch office of the Oromia News Network (ONN). These reports were obviously fake news that ESAT journalists found on social media but failed to verify such social media stories before disseminating them as stories. To be a credible media outlet, ESAT journalists should refrain from disseminate fake news found on social media and should investigate and verify their stories before sharing with public. In this instance, ESAT could have verified the story by contacting the OLF office in Addis Ababa and by requesting to speak with the individuals or leaders involved in the story.
- When a conflict arose between the OLF and the Ethiopian government and an officer of the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP) claimed that there are about 500 non-Oromo combatants in the OLF army who returned form Eritrea, ESAT reported the story without verifying its accuracy. Again, legitimate and honest journalistic work requires investigation and verification of any conflicting information and story before reporting to the public. In this case, ESAT’s journalists could have contacted both parties, could have visited the site where the OLF returnees were camped and requested to talk to individuals involved. ESAT did not engage in any such investigation and reported unconfirmed story as factual.
- In the last few months when conflict erupted between OLF combatants and the EPRDF army in western Oromia and the Guji region, ESAT journalists did not verify the causes of the conflict by contacting the army leaders of the OLF and the EPRDF. Instead, ESAT commentators such as Ermias Legesse advocated for the escalation of the conflict. Such journalists wanted the conflict to expand by urging the government to declare an all-out war on OLF combatants – a clear violation of journalistic ethics. The role of journalists is to report accurate news, not to instigate violence and war. Instead, ESAT journalists have rejoiced about the causalities of the conflict, which include large number of innocent civilians.
At this moment, the Horn of Africa and Ethiopia are facing many complex social, political, economic and environmental problems. We believe that the solutions to those complex problems can be found through our collective efforts. If the media propagate one-sided, fabricated and unsubstantiated stories, spread hate and bigotry, conflicts will expand and problems will be aggravated
As representatives of Oromo civic organizations, we expect ESAT to share accurate and thoroughly investigated, impartial and independent reports. We want the media outlet to stand for civility, peace and respect for human rights.
We write this memo because we are deeply disappointed by the inaccurate and biased reporting and the dissemination of fake news by ESAT journalists. As the specific examples we indicated above reveal, ESAT is very hostile towards the Oromo people and is engaging in unethical practices. We are sincerely concerned that such practices undermine peaceful community relations, instigate communal violence, destabilize the region, and will contribute to the disintegration of the country.
Please be informed that as representatives of Oromo professional, civic and community organizations, we are closely watching and documenting ESAT’s reports and commentaries by ESAT’s journalists. If necessary, we will alert human rights organizations such as the Reporters Without Borders, the Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, the Genocide Watch, the Human Rights Leagues of the Horn of Africa and others to closely monitor your reports. We strongly urge ESAT to carefully re-evaluate its journalistic approach and the work of its journalists, and to take full responsibility for negative consequences of any biased reports or fake news it has disseminated. We expect ESAT leadership team will advise its journalists to take a politically neutral stance in their reporting and commentaries, as all professional journalists are expected to do.
Finally, we also appeal to all media outlets to follow professional standards and to refrain from spreading biased and inaccurate reports.
Oromo Civic Organizations:
- Oromo Studies Association
- Oromia Support Group
- Human Rights League for the Horn of Africa
- International Qeerroo Support Group
- International Oromo Lawyers Association
- International Oromo Women’s Organization
- Global Gumii Oromia
- Oromo Communities Association in North America (OCA-NA)
6909 Laurel Ave, PO. Box 5462
Tacoma Park, MD 20913
Phone: (612) 483-0161 or 517-449-1164