Selective Liberalization: An Analysis of Media Reform in an Emerging Democracy

Selective Liberalization: An Analysis of Media Reform in an Emerging Democracy

Terje S. Skjerdal (NLA University College, Norway)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4197-6.ch003
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This chapter discusses recent developments in Ethiopian media governance. The developments point in two directions: Formally speaking, media policy is liberalized, exemplified by improved media legislation, better access to public information, and issuing of private broadcasting licences. However, informally speaking, Ethiopian media governance shows signs of coercion. This is seen for example in increased government control with the official news agency, use of anti-terrorism legislation against journalists, and obstruction of political websites. The chapter suggests that the paradoxes in Ethiopian media governance may be explained as a case of selective liberalization, implying that liberalization is primarily found in areas where the risk of losing control with the flow of information is less for the government. Alongside selective liberalization, there is an undercurrent of unofficial policy in Ethiopia that may represent a return to informal coercion towards the media industry.
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Developments Towards Liberalization In African Media Policy

It is generally assumed that there is some sort of correlation between democratization and media liberalization, even though the relations are complex and unique to each national context. The paradox on the African continent, nonetheless, is that decolonization and national independence in the immediate decades after the 1950s did not bring with it larger media freedom—quite the contrary, actually, in many cases. The new African leaders—with hardly any exception–regarded the media as a convenient instrument for their political project. Kwame Nkrumah, the father of African nationalism, thus advocated a close partnership between political and journalistic forces when declaring that “our revolutionary African press must carry our revolutionary purposes” (cited in Bond, 1997, p. 30). To varying degrees, the media became mouthpieces of nationalism in the newly independent states. Many outlets, both private and official ones, began to censor themselves in order to tune in with official political ideas. They resembled “muffled drums” (Hachten, 1971) and the radio in particular became an instrument of political propaganda (Hydén & Okigbo, 2002). The situation turned even worse in military regimes such as Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Guinea, where there was no room for independent voices at all.

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