Ethiopia Media and Telecoms Landscape Guide

Reports & Surveys
March 22, 2013

Infoasaid produced this media landscape guide about Ethiopia in October 2011.

Media overview

  •  Radio is the main source of news and information in Ethiopia, especially in the rural areas where 80% of the population lives.
  • However, many people in the countryside simply rely on word of mouth, particularly what they hear at community meetings or through their local church or mosque.
  • Television is the most popular source of information in the main cities.
  • There are several newspapers, but their circulation is low and they are only available in Addis Ababa and the main towns.
  • Fewer than 1% of Ethiopians have access to the internet.
  • The media are dominated by state radio and television.
  • The government maintains tight control on news and information.
  • News reports that are critical of the government are extremely rare.
  • Journalists constantly practice self censorship to keep out of trouble with the authorities.
  • The state-run Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA) runs Ethiopia’s only nationwide radio and TV services.
  • Its flagship radio station, Ethiopia Radio, reaches a potential audience of 45 million people on medium wave – just over half the population - according to the Electoral Reform International Services (ERIS) Ethiopia Media Mapping Survey, published in 2011.
  • This report was produced by the UK-based NGO ERIS with funding from the British government.
  • Please note that this guide does not give actual audience figures for each radio and TV station. Reliable audience data for Ethiopia does not exist.
  • The ERIS figures given for the potential audience of each broadcaster simply refer to the size of population that lives within its coverage area.
  • The ERTA national TV channel Ethiopian Television broadcasts from transmitters in 27 towns and cities across the country. It claims to reach a potential audience of 25 million.
  • However, television is essentially an urban phenomenon in Ethiopia. Most people who live in the countryside are too poor to afford a TV set.
  • Furthermore, few rural areas have electricity and Ethiopia’s mountainous terrain ensures that in most parts of the country, the geographical reach of each transmitter is quite limited.
  • In addition to ERTA, the government runs eight regional mass media agencies.
  • These provide regional radio and TV services from the following cities:
    • Adama (also known as Nazret) (Oromia)
    • Addis Ababa
    • Bahir Dar (Amhara)
    • Dire Dawa (Dire Dawa)
    • Harar (Harari)
    • Hawassa (also spelt Awassa) (SNNPR)
    • Jijiga (Somali)
    • Mekele (Tigray)
  • Oromia Mass Media Agency is the largest regional broadcaster in Ethiopia. According to the 2011 ERIS Media Mapping survey, it employs nearly 200 full-time journalists and about 100 part-timers.
  • The government maintains a complete monopoly on television broadcasting, but it has licensed a handful of private radio stations.
  • The largest of these are Fana Radio, based in Addis Ababa and Dimtsi Weyane Tigray (DWET), based in Mekele, the capital of the northern Tigray region.
  • However, both these stations are controlled by interests close to the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) party.
  • Three genuinely private FM radio stations exist in Addis Ababa, but they all steer well away from critical news reporting that might upset the government.
  • Since 2008, the government has also set up nine community FM radio stations in various small towns across the country.
  • These are partly funded by the government, partly by advertising and partly by donations from various organizations and individuals.
  • In most parts of Ethiopia, state radio and TV are the only sources of broadcast information available.
  • Two international radio stations broadcast to Ethiopia in Amharic on Short Wave; Voice of America (VOA) and Germany’s Radio Deutsche Welle.
  • The government has been accused of jamming both stations.
  • In 2010, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi likened VOA’s Amharic service to Radio Mille Collines, the Rwandan radio station which incited hatred and violence against Tutsis in the 1994 genocide.
  • The US-based civil liberties organization Freedom House downgraded Ethiopia from “partly free” to “not free” in its 2011 Freedom in the World index of political liberties.
  • This move followed a government crackdown on opposition parties and the media during and after the 2010 general elections.
  • The ruling EPRDF and its allies won all but two of the 547 seats in Parliament in these elections.
  • The press freedom organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) ranked Ethiopia 139th out of 178 countries listed in its 2010 Press Freedom Index.
  • “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and his government have been tightening their grip on news and information in the last months. Ethiopia has joined the list of sub-Saharan countries that are keeping a close eye on the media and are trying to control or influence editorial policies. Due to their increasing intolerance, the authorities are doing everything they can to stifle the critical impulses of journalists and to make life difficult for the private media,” RSF said in a statement in March 2011.
  • There are some privately owned newspapers in the capital Addis Ababa, but their news and current affairs coverage is dominated by shallow and largely uncritical reporting of the government.
  • Ethiopian journalists working for the international media say they are frequently contacted by government officials who complain about their reports, which are closely monitored.
  • Visiting foreign journalists are generally free to report, provided they obtain government press accreditation and conform to other procedural regulations.
  • CNN, BBC, Euronews and Al-Jazeera are available on satellite television. But this is beyond the means of most Ethiopians.
  • The ERIS Audience Survey Ethiopia 2011, a companion report to the ERIS Ethiopia Media Mapping Survey, found that 80% of Ethiopians use radio as a source of news and information.
  • The survey of 3,999 people was conducted in several different regions of Ethiopia in late 2010.
  • More than half the respondents cited radio as their most important and reliable source of information.
  • Nearly two thirds also mentioned television as a source of information. However, the ERIS survey found that most Ethiopian viewers do not have a TV set in their own homes. They watch television in a cafe, bar or restaurant or at a friend’s house.
  • Word of mouth was the third most important source of information. It was mentioned by 49% of respondents in the ERIS survey.
  • In fact, word of mouth was the single most important source of information for people in the remote provinces of Afar and Somali.
  • Other important sources of information mentioned were community meetings, churches and mosques and the mobile phone.
  • Only 13% of the respondents said they received information from newspapers.
  • According to UNESCO, fewer than 30% of Ethiopian adults can read and write. Some other sources put the literacy rate higher at around 40%. Literacy is higher in men than in women.
  • Ethiopian journalists cite political pressures, low salaries and a lack of professionalism as major obstacles to the improvement of the local media.
  • Self-censorship and close vetting of news reports by politically appointed editors is common.
  • Journalists particularly avoid stories that might be perceived as exacerbating ethnic or religious tensions.
  • According to ERIS, most Ethiopian journalists earn about 2,500 Birr (US$150) per month.
  • Amharic is the main language used by national radio and TV, but regional stations broadcast most of their output in local languages.
  • The most widely spoken are Oromo, Tigrinya and Somali, but many other languages are also used in local broadcasting.
  • Aid agencies planning to use the Ethiopian media to communicate with assisted population groups should liaise closely with the Government Communications Affairs Office, which acts as government spokesman, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA), which licences radio and television stations and regulates their activity, and the Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA), which operates the government’s national radio and television services.

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