The ethnification of Ethiopian media

In a first for Ethiopia, this study examines the role media play in ethnic tensions in contemporary Ethiopia. The authors conclude that ethnic belonging and identity politics are gaining significance in the current Ethiopian media discourse.

Even though the conditions for the Ethiopian media has improved under the leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the study finds that the state of the media in the country is deeply disconcerting.

The authors conclude that ethnic belonging and identity politics are gaining significance as a central frame of reference in the current Ethiopian media discourse.

The study shows that media practitioners are deeply concerned about the significant trend towards more polarisation fueled by ethno-nationalistic media of different origin and ownership, vis-à-vis pan-Ethiopian channels. The previous stronghold of the federal state media (EPRDF-supportive) has been overtaken by a fragmented state media structure and with a growing significance of regional mass media agencies.

Journalists are beginning to form alliances along regional and ethnic lines. This trend is clearly illustrated by the establishment of the Amhara Journalist Association, Oromia Journalist Association, and Tigray Journalist Association. The research also shows that journalists are highly inclined to use sources that support their own ideological interest and avoid quoting sources from other ethnicities could balance the story.

The study combines in-depth interviews of key media professionals with an analysis of media coverage of eight crucial incidents between 2018 and 2020.

Authors are Terje Skjerdal, associate professor in journalism at NLA University College, Kristiansand, Norway and Mulatu Alemayehu, assistant professor of journalism and communication at Addis Ababa University.

Terje Skjerdal has taught and researched journalism in Ethiopia since 2002 and Mulatu Alemayehu has published a number of reports and his doctoral studies about journalism in Ethiopia.

‘The ethnification of the Ethiopian media’ is commissioned by IMS and Fojo Media Institute.