New Ethiopian media law draws criticism

July 2, 2008

The parliament, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi’s Ethiopian
Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, said on Wednesday the new Mass
Media and Freedom of Information Law was based on international
concepts of press freedom.

“Under the new law, previous restrictions against private media
outlets, such as detention of journalists suspected of infringement of
the law, has been scrapped,” a parliament statement said. The vote
passed on Tuesday.

But opposition members said the law still allowed state prosecutors
to invoke national security as grounds for impounding publishing
materials prior to publication and distribution.

“Although censorship is abolished, such a right to impound press
material before distribution is tantamount to censorship,” opposition
parliamentarian Temesgen Zewede told Reuters.

Bulcha Demeksa, leader of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement described the new law as “draconian”.

“I consider the day on which this law was enacted as a dark day in the annals of Ethiopian history,” he said.

Journalists will under the new law have the right to set up an independent press council.

Meles, once considered a pioneer of democracy in Africa, has seen
his reputation wane since post-election violence that killed some 200
people in 2005.

An ensuing crackdown on opposition members and journalists viewed
as sympathetic to them prompted aid cuts and sharp criticism from the
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