A video which shows Ethiopian Prime Minster Meles Zenawi being heckled at the latest 2012 G8 Food Security Symposium in Washington, D.C. has ignited a debate about the role of journalists in authoritarian regimes.
Ethiopian activist and journalist Abebe Gellaw is seen in the video shouting “Freedom, Freedom, Meles Zenawi is a dictator, you are committing crime against humanity.” Prime Minster Meles Zenawi who usually enjoys flattering pro-government press coverage at home looks shocked and irritated.
Discussing the video on Facebook, Abiye Teklemariam draws a comparison between the late Romanian dictator Ceausescu and Meles Zenawi:
I have seen a lot of leaders being heckled by protestors. They usually hide their shock and anger so effortlessly. Some of them actually get our sympathies with self-deprecating humor and fake concern for freedom of speech of the heckler. Meles Zenawi though looked utterly baffled and angry. His reaction had an uncanny resemblance with that famous Ceausescu moment, the way the Romanian dictator reacted when he, for the first time since his ascendancy to power, was booed by the normally impeccably obedient people during his speech. This video tells a lot!
Mesfin Negash says:
What an experience to MZ! You never saw MZ so shocked, embarrassed and angry in front of an audience. Journalist Abebe Gelaw made his point beyond proportion and IN PERSON. Must watch moment of MZ! PUBLIC WARNING:- you are strongly advised not to try or improvise this at home unless…! [lol]
However, Daniel Berahane does not think Prime Minster Meles Zenawi was shocked. He shares another video which he described it as “[Unedited] Meles Zenawi's graceful reaction, as Abebe Gelaw barks”:
In a bid to disapprove Abebe Gellaw’s efforts, Daniel further produces an imaginary interview between President Barack Obama and Prime Minster Meles Zenawi:
Barack Obama:…while we are on Ethiopia, I have to raise some concerns about journalists if you don't mind. You know, I receive letters from Congressmen and rights groups alleging that…..
Meles Zenawi:( clears his throat) Pardon me, Obama. I am not following. Which journalists are you talking about….the likes of the one you saw barking earlier?
Barak Obama :(snorts) Well, you have a point. Ok. Let's discuss the Sudan’s, what's your advise on…….
[Meles Zenawi might have said to himself: Thank you, Abebe Gelaw, you made my case.
Al Mariam, an academic and blogger based in USA, argues that Zenawi got a taste of his own medicine:
Zenawi was shocked, bewildered, flabbergasted and completely disoriented. It was as though 90 million Ethiopians had lined up pointing an accusatory finger at him and shouting in unison, “Meles Zenawi! You are a dictator!...” In that moment Abebe gloriously realized the true meaning of the tagline of his website addisvoice.com – “A Voice of the Voiceless”. Ironically, the voice of the voiceless rendered speechless the man who had rendered millions voiceless!
The expression on his face [Zenawi's] was total disbelief. “Is that Abebe Gellaw? It can’t be! I thought I had him canned in Kality Prison with Eskinder Nega, Reeyot Alemu and Woubshet Taye. What the hell is he doing here?!?”
Hallelujah Lulie does not think journalists should not be campaigners as their professional integrity will be seriously tarnished:
Objectivity is not equivalent to neutrality. I understand the critique on objective reporting supporting the status quo. However patriotic and advocacy journalism is a very bad trend as well. Objectivity should not be about turning a blind eye to injustice and pretending to treat the oppressor and the oppresee in an equal manner. I understand the frustration that pushed Abebe to do what he did,but any effort to rationalize the act from a journalistic perspective is being hypocritical and bending and manipulating the rules and principles we claim to promote, to fit our own political objectives. Supporting the ‘Journalist’ Abebe shouting on Meles, and the Journalistic explanation to it make it look professional make me ask if it is wrong to question and examine the professionalism and accuracy of journalists in authoritarian regimes? How can a so called ‘neutral’ or ‘uninformed’ audience can trust anything Abebe or his alikes reports about Ethiopia? We should be able to look further than events and sensational reactions and worry about the creating a culture and laying a sensible foundation.
Journalists are supposed to be the purveyors of accurate information and whether overt and vocal opposition to a group might impair this task can be a reasonable topic of debate. But this debate about the boundaries of good journalism – that is, the impartial investigation of the truth – starts with an assumption that the space for good journalism exists. It is a second-order debate. In dictatorships, the assumption has no validity. Journalism in such system is an elaborate con-game that is played to justify a rigged result. Without a reasonable degree of freedom of expression and information, rules and practices against censorship, and a friendly space for journalists, impartial investigation of the truth is impossible. This poses a fundamental either/or question for those who want to practice good journalism: would they go on carrying out their task as if there were a space for their work(which is false) or would they fight to change the space(which demands a serious degree of political activism)? For me, the answer is so obvious. Anti-regime political activism by journalists in dictatorship is what they do to make good journalism possible.
Ethiopian government under the leadership of Prime Minster Meles Zenawi is constantly condemned at home and abroad for its unacceptable treatment of journalists. Endalk sheds light on the plight of Ethiopian journalists.