Ethiopian Government Considering to Enact New Media Law

Social-mediaJune 3, 2019 ( -- The Ethiopian government is considering to enact a new law to combat what it called disinformation and hate speech on social media

According to discussions going on, disinformation and hate speech or "fake news" is posing a national threat to the country, and inflaming racial conflicts in several parts of Ethiopia.

To combat the spread of disinformation and hate speech, regulations have been proposed by the government and expected to be enacted upon by the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR), according to ENA report.

The rport quotes Associated Press (AP) Correspondent, Elias Meseret as supporting the move saying “in the past one year, generally there has been tremendous amount of opening up of the media landscape and this is something undeniable.” “I think what the government should do right now is to put the freedom of press into a legal framework otherwise it will be the will of the Prime Minister or politicians,” he added.

Also quoted in the report is Addis Ababa University Law Lecturer, Professor Zekaryas Kenea, who said "disinformation disseminated by media is confusing and encouraging for protest and by far is becoming the national threat."

“There are media that disseminate disinformation through digital media, internet, and sometimes the mainstream media too. Therefore, there are signs that some wrong information reach to the public that were not supposed to, so measures should be taken,” Professor Zekaryas elaborated.

Whereas such sentiments may have good intentions, it can be a slippery slope for a government trying to defend its record and enforce the law at the same time.

Judging from history, previous governments did not stop at a line acceptable to them and the public. What seem fair rules at the beginning can morph into draconian laws and end the short reprieve that the nation got under the new government.

It must be recalled that it is barely one year since the government of Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed liberalized the media and freed political prisoners in the country.

Ethiopia has long been known for being one of the most repressive countries in the world for journalists and political activists. That was the reason why so many fled the country and were welcomed back by the reformist Prime Minister. And, according to many, that is also the reason why the Ethiopian media is so underdeveloped, even by African standards, and one that is largely self-sensoring and differential to government policies regardless of merit.

Social media information or disinformation is by no means unique to Ethiopia. Every country has more or less the same problem due to the inherent nature of the media. The question is whether Ethiopia will have a rule all unto itself yet all over again.

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