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Journalists Protests Closure of Newspaper

Ethiopian Free Press Journalists' Association (EFJA), press release, 4 April 2001

Addis Ababa—The dramatic publisher’s decision has left over 150 journalists and other supporting staff jobless overnight.

’Eletawii Addis’, Ethiopia’s first Amharic language private daily newspaper has quitted its publication since 28 March 2001 with the decision of the publisher, Unity College, which launched the paper late last year. The dramatic publisher’s decision has left over 150 journalists and other supporting staff jobless overnight.

The immediate cause of the closure of the publication of the pioneering daily in the Ethiopian media development was initiated by the recent crackdown with the Tigrian People Liberation Front (TPLF), which the paper published in its March 13 issue of this year. The president and owner of the College had previously informed the chief editor of this newspaper orally to refrain from publishing the crackdown within the TPLF, the main coalition of the ruling Ethiopian Peoples Democratic Front. He told the chief editor that he didn’t feel comfort with the entertainment of the split within the TPLF camp within the paper.

The Chief and Managing editor of the paper however, believed that the unexpected stand taken by the college president, Dr Fisseha Eshetu had seriously threaten them as it violated the prior promise of non interference with the professional ethics of journalism while the paper was beginning its publications. The president didn’t show any kind of professional interference with the publications of the paper for the first seven months while the daily was publishing the various contentious political and economic issues of the country. The editors firmly believed that the stand of Dr fisseha would seriously undermine the professional ethics of journalism.

We also believed that the paper, which had been entertaining various political issues from the first day of its publication, could not ignore the crackdown with the main political party of the country from ethical and moral points of view of the profession. It is in realization of this fact that the editors of the daily decided to publish the balanced and accurate information about the trouble with the TPLF in its March 22, 2001 publications.

We are not aware why the owner of Unity College who is also the publisher of the paper, who time and again was promising to refrain from interference with the professional ethics of journalism dramatically lost ’comfort’ with the publication on TPLF issue. Various private papers had entertained the publication on the issue of the TPLF crackdown prior to the report carried out by Eletawii Addis, which government owned media made public on the same night of the day our daily fairly reported the issue.

It is following this fair and balanced information that the publisher issued a letter to the chief editor to penalize him with 500 Birr and last warning not to entertain any issues of political content from that day onwards.

In protest of this letter the chief editor responded saying that a move taken by the college that taught journalism as a profession and social transform as its vision would not be expected to violate the freedom expression which is part of basic human right. The letter issued by President, Dr Fisseha Eshetu had been lacking balance and ethical evaluation that the chief editor was forced to resign and quit his job at Eletawii Addis. The chief Editor expressed his firm conviction in his letter of resignation that he could not work with a news paper that doesn’t entertain the political issues which are the core of social transform the college is professing to carry out. The editorial conference and all the editors of the daily had supported the position taken by the chief editor following deep and through discussion.

Dr Fisseha however approached the managing editor of the newspaper to overtake the position of chief editor following the resignation letter of the chief editor. The managing editor all the same, told the publisher that the decision taken not to entertain political issues in the paper is not only opposed by the chief editor but also all editors who are members of the editorial conference. The owner subsequently ordered the managing editor to quit the publication of the paper on March 24. The president immediately ordered his aides to post announcement which commanded the over 150 journalists and supporting staff to remain out of office until certain decision was reached by the management of the College. The reason for this temporary shutdown was the absence of one who took the responsibility of leading the management of the newspaper, according to the posted announcement.

According to the publisher and owner of the newspaper, the aim of the daily was not to make any sort of profit at all. It was aimed at, according to the owner of course, promoting social reform and interaction of free ideas among Ethiopians from all walks of life. Dr. Fisseha who is owner of the Unity College and publisher of the paper, repeatedly promised the journalists of the paper that interference of any kind would not be tolerated while undertaking the professional career of the paper. He also had been expressing his ’firm belief’ that the other senior management would share the same idea with him to protect the professional ethics of journalists at the paper.

Though any one of us is not clear with the dramatic change with the mind of the owner, we believe that his stand is an assault not only on the employees of the paper but also the development of free press in Ethiopia. This attack manifested itself when the owner began saying write this, don’t write that. He also empowered himself the authority meant for the court by punishing the chief editor for publishing a contentious political agenda which had been talk of the country that week. He also downgraded the power of media by firing all the journalists without any precaution. We have also received reports that Dr. Fisseha had refused to respond to foreign and local media journalists to report fairly on the closure of the paper. We believe that this as well confirm the despotic stand taken by a man professing him self as agent for social reform and development.

We, Journalists at the Eletawii Addis therefore call on the Ethiopian public in general, Ethiopian mass media and journalists as well as all journalists and all free journalist associations world wide to extend every support our efforts to ensure our human rights. We also call upon the legal bodies to support our cause while we are struggling to ensure our lawful rights and freedom of speech, of course.


1. The Ethiopian Free press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) calls on all International free press institutions, counterpart professional associations, international human rights activists and organizations to express their protest against the inhuman actions and the dramatic publisher’s decision that has left over 150 journalists and other supporting staff jobless overnight.

2. Once again we request all human rights activists and organization and professional association throughout the world that have received this message to disseminate our call to all concerned and fax copies of message of us at our fax no.+251 1 55 50 21 or E-mail: efjakifle@hotmail.com or efja@telecom.net.et )

3. EFJA also calls on all the just mentioned organizations to send letters of appeal to:

Dr. Fisseha Eshetu President of Unity College
E-mail: Fax: +251 1 550946 Addis Ababa (Ethiopia)

The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists’ Association (EFJA) would keep you all informed on the latest developments regarding 150 jobless journalists and other supporting staff.