Does the CPJ stand with the victims or Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines?

Tibebe Samuel Ferenji (07/04/2020)

The former UN Secretary Kofi Annan in his book titled “The Media and The Rwanda Genocide” wrote, “It was the French philosopher, Voltaire, who wrote: ‘We owe respect to the living; to the dead, we owe only truth”. He continued to state “In the case of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the news media accomplished neither of Voltaire’s admonitions. Confronted by Rwanda’s horrors, Western news media for the most part turned away, then muddled the story when they did pay attention. And hate media organs in Rwanda–through their journalists, broadcasters and media executives–played an instrumental role in laying the groundwork for genocide, then actively participated in the extermination campaign.”

Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) was a radio program that is responsible for promoting violence that caused a civil war between Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda which resulted in the death of about 800,000 Rwandans in 1994. A working paper published at Harvard University found that RTLM broadcasts were an important part of the process of mobilizing the population, which complemented the mandatory meetings. Richard Ashby Wilson an American-British social anthropologist of law and human rights, in his book titled “Incitement on Trial: Prosecuting International Speech Crimes” described RTLM as “Radio genocide”.

What prompted me to write this is the press release issued by the CPJ on June 30, 2020, titled “Ethiopia: CPJ Condemns Ethiopian Internet Shutdown and Oromia Media Network Raid”. The issue of this press release and its content is not only irresponsible, it is counterproductive to the future work of the CPJ. The CPJ was quick to condemn, without taking into account the damage that has been done by the likes of the Oromo Media Network (OMN) and the danger posed to our nation. To prevent more death and more damages, the Ethiopian government took action by shutting down the internet and by raiding the OMN office that has been instrumental in instigating genocide in Ethiopia. What is wrong with that? First of all, it is absolutely wrong for the CPJ to consider the OMN as a legitimate News organization, and those who work there as journalists. The OMN is weaponized to undermine Ethiopia’s development effort and create a civil war with the objective of establishing “an independent Oromia” that few individuals can control and rule with force. This is what the OMN is promoting in the name of “journalism”.

Since its inception, OMN leadership has worked hard to incite ethnic violence in Ethiopia. Its operation is led and controlled by extremist elements and used for extremists’ political agenda. OMN is supported by the United States taxpayers; it is established with false pretenses as educational media when in fact it is used as a propaganda machine for an anti-Ethiopia in general and anti-Amhara in particular. It violated the spirit and the letter of its tax-exempt status and became a piggy bank for a few individuals’ luxurious lifestyles. As far as I am concerned the OMN is not any different than the RTLM with one exception; the OMN is stopped, at least for now, without causing the civil war it intended to cause. Because the OMN promoted revisionists’ version of history and incited interethnic violence, many innocent lives are lost. The CPJ should have taken such brutal action into consideration before standing with the OMN. CPJ and other human rights organizations should work to make those who are responsible for such violence in the name of journalism accountable instead of condemning the government for taking the necessary action to stop ethnic violence and genocide. It is irresponsible and dangerous to stand with an organization that uses RTLM’s playbook to promote civil unrest, genocide, and create havoc in Ethiopia. Any reasonable person who watched OMN understands the hateful propaganda and its agitation for violence, particularly against ethnic Amharas. As far as I am concerned OMN is not any different from RTLM; its objective has been to get rid of “none Oromos”, particularly Amharas from Oromia region.    

I am the son of the first Ethiopian TV journalist; I grew up around journalists and have a lot of respect for journalists who work under very difficult circumstances. Journalists in undemocratic countries are subjected to harassment, detention, and assassinations. Unfortunately, there are those who use this honorable profession to promote hate and conflict. There is no question that the world needs a free press. What the world does not need is pseudo-journalists who incite violence, promote genocide, and use the news media for evil political objectives. As technology allows almost everyone to become a “journalist”, it is essential to examine who is truly faithful to the profession and who uses the profession for propaganda with the intention of creating conflict among people. It is with this in mind that I believe to consider everyone who holds a microphone as a “journalist” is a disservice to true journalists who work hard to bring us unbiased and balanced news. Particularly now, when it is easy for anyone to broadcast worldwide, for organizations like the CPJ it is necessary to distinguish journalism, from propaganda, and yellow journalism. 

It is important for the likes of CPJ to understand what they are defending and to adopt a new standard to differentiate between real journalism and those who promote their evil agenda under the color of journalism. I am all for freedom of the press and speech. I have advocated for freedom of the press and speech all my life. I know and appreciate the work that the CPJ does around the world. Like most Ethiopians who have worked against injustice in Ethiopia, I have used press releases and reports from the CPJ as objective evidence to expose human rights abuse in Ethiopia. I understand and wholeheartedly believe and support the work of CPJ and other human rights organizations despite their actual and perceived bias. I also believe for the government to take all human rights-related reports seriously and conduct its own investigation by independent entities to distinguish between actual human rights abuse and politically motivated false human rights violations reports.

Why did the CPJ issue the press release on June 30, 2020? Did it check any facts before jumping the gun? Does the CPJ take any responsibility for the damage to any journalist or pseudo journalist and “news organization” cause? Does it matter for the CPJ when innocent Amharas are massacred in Shashmnie, Arsi, Zeway, etc., as a result of the work done by the OMN and its pseudo-journalists? What does the CPJ gain by rushing to judgment and issuing a press release as it did? As Kofi Annan said, “Western news media for the most part turned away, then muddled the story when they did pay attention.” Here the CPJ action is nothing but muddling what took place in Ethiopia. The CPJ failed to act responsibly and rushed to defend those suspected in committing a crime. Journalism is not a crime, but using journalism as a guise to incite violence is a crime. Journalism does not give anyone the right to violate laws and regulations. The profession is not “bulletproof vest” to escape prosecution when and if journalists or pseudo-journalists commit a crime. Where was the CPJ when the OMN incite violence? Did the CPJ warn OMN what it was doing is against the law and an abuse of journalistic ethics?

I also find it irresponsible for the CPJ to condemn the internet shut down in Ethiopia. I don’t think the CPJ is ignorant of the fact the shutting down of the internet saved lives.  Like any responsible government, the Ethiopian government took the necessary action to protect the people. We all are aware that internet technology is used to disseminate dangerous and false information; it is with that in mind the Ethiopian government took the appropriate action. It costs the Ethiopian government and the business community in Ethiopia in Billions of dollars when the internet is shut down. No amount of money is not worth the life of innocent citizens.

If the likes of CPJ became partisan hacks, then they will not be trusted and their report or press release will have no weight. The institution must examine its June 30, 2020 press release and apologize to the people of Ethiopia and put the necessary process and guardrail to prevent such grave error from taking place again. Human life has more value than the profession that the CPJ is trying to protect.

God Bless Ethiopia and her people. May God heal our nation and mend broken hearts.   

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