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Interview with Editor-in-Chief Tsedale Lemma

One the issues recurrent in discussions of the late PM Meles’s Zenawi’s legacy and the period after his passing is the state of the private media.Tsedale Lemma

To reflect on that and other issues related to Meles’s passing, I have conducted a brief interview with Tsedale Lemma, who is editor in chief of Addis Standard – a monthly magazine based in Addis Ababa and also distributed in Ghana, Burundi and South Sudan.

As Tsedale was in a vacation abroad by the time (January 2), this interview was conducted through e-mail.

Read the interview with Tsedale Lemma below. (the words in brackets [ ] are my insertions intended to clarify).

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Daniel Berhane: About a year ago, CPJ (Committee to Protect Journalists) claimed Feteh newspaper was ‘the only independent newspaper’ in the country. Now, Fetehe is closed, so can we say there is no independent
publication now?

Tsedale Lemma:

My response to statements like this not only by CPJ but also by almost all exiled Ethiopian journalists who paint similar pictures has been and will always be unequivocal. Such kinds of statements are  total humiliations and discredit not only those journalists who remain at home and continue to battle the odds to stay practicing as independent journalists, but also to the profession itself, which, in spite of the less than sincere environment for its growth,  continued to survive in today’s Ethiopia.

Daniel Berhane: While you are at it, what qualifies a media as an independent?

Tsedale Lemma:

There is no one answer that fits into a description of “independent media.” But the least is a media that doesn’t have to worry about whether or not a certain topic is the right topic to discuss in a professional manner. In other words, a media that, other than issues strictly to do with professional integrity, is not tangled by self-censorship and an imposing environment of fear.

Daniel Berhane: The number of TV services in Ethiopia has reached about 6, besides dozens of FM and community radio services. Can this be taken as the government’s commitment for plurality of information sources and free expression?

Tsedale Lemma:

I don’t believe plurality of information is kept at a satisfactory level of balance simply because of the number of radio and TV stations in a country like Ethiopia has reached to such a meager amount; not particularly if virtually all of them are controlled by the state. You may mention the likes of Sheger 102 [a private-owned FM radio] as an example of an independent radio station, but perhaps it is advisable you have a word with the people involved with that station if they feel, and work, as if they are independent. No need to pre-empt the answer here.

Daniel Berhane: It appears the government deems it has done its share to create a conducive environment for private media. Do you agree?

Tsedale Lemma:

One of the most dangerous ways of reasoning by the government in Ethiopia when it comes to rating itself and its achievements in terms of promoting the private media, hence freedom of the press, is that it thinks it has done remarkably well as compared to previous regimes in Ethiopia when in fact there is so much to be desired.

I said this for two fundamental reasons: First while it has done significantly better as compared to previous regimes, the truth of the matter remains it can do a lot better if it wants to. Second, if there was a true will, certainly, the present stage will not be where the private media would be after 21 long years. So the government may believe it has done its share, but that is because it is in denial that if it wants to, it can do a better share than this.

Daniel Berhane: Do you see a different trend – positive or negative – in the government’s treatment of the media since Meles’ passing?

Tsedale Lemma:

My answer is a simple No. However, there is an increasing trend in reporting domestic political affairs particularly by non-state employed journalists since the death of Ethiopia’s PM Meles Zenawi. Whether or not this trend can be attributed to the state’s treatment of the media is a matter that needs a thorough observation in the weeks and months to come.

Daniel Berhane: Speaking of Meles, were you surprised by how the national mourning went?

Tsedale Lemma:

By the time his untimely death was made public, I was outside of Ethiopia and hence didn’t have clear understanding of the national mourning as my take was limited to the words of ETV and those of the diaspora based Ethiopian run media and social media. However, in time for the state funeral, and a trip to my family outside of Addis Ababa presented me with an overwhelming and inexplicable (in my capacity to understand social behaviors at times like this) sense of a national mourning.  So in a way, that has caught me quite off guard.

Daniel Berhane: Do you think the still on-going posthumous glorification of the late PM Meles Zenawi is “too much”?

Tsedale Lemma:

I have my own reservations regarding the attempt by the government to maximize on its popularity using PM Meles’s death which, to my understanding, should have purely been attributed as an absolute ‘Ethiopianism’ than anything else.

There is and remains a dizzyingly worrisome glorification at national level of the late PM Meles for unfortunate reasons that are purely to do with an absolute urge of political justification than his actual and untimely departure from the picture. 

Daniel Berhane: You make a lot of money, right? I presume almost all institutions and a significant section of the middle-class is subscribed to Addis Standard.

Tsedale Lemma:

Personally, I am just an editor-in-chief of a magazine that is owned by a separate publishing company. In my role, yes I make money. Whether or not it’s a lot, depends on how much I decide to spend every month.

From what I know, until three months ago, the magazine was being published without being able to cover its operational cost. However, recent trends (including a significant salary increase to all its staffs) show it is on its way to becoming profitable. Institutional and individual subscriptions are on an encouraging upward trend. But most importantly, as can be seen from the physical copy of the magazine, long term institutional advertisements are on the rise; both trends are enabling the magazine to invest more on itself and staff expansion. The next step, obviously, will be earning the paid up capital back, which, given the hard work by everyone involved, will be, to my humble estimate, in the next few months.  

Daniel Berhane: Tell me more about Addis Standard magazine. What is the objective and why in English?

Tsedale Lemma:

[Addis Standard] is a monthly magazine focusing on both domestic and international current affairs of socio political and socio economical topics. Its correspondents are located in various parts of the world including but not limited to Africa, the Middle East and the U.S. It also has media uplink projects with various media and think-thank organizations such as Policy Pointers, Ambassador David Shinn’s official blog and the European Institution for Policy Research.

Its core objective is to provide quality journalism on domestic and the world affairs in the form of a print magazine along with its online version from a perspective of a purely domestic media. i.e. to sustain as a media that treats international affairs as originally (from its own editorial staff)  and as equally as it treats domestic socio political and socio economic affairs.

Why in English? There are many reasons for that from its editorial policy to the sort of writers the magazine has. But the most suitable answer here is the market segment mostly in Addis Ababa but also in the three countries the magazine is currently being distributed (Ghana, Burundi and South Sudan). In Addis Ababa alone, the need for the kind of topics the magazine wanted to cover was immense. It is also in English owing to the availability of local journalists who could provide a candid coverage on international affairs as much as they could do on domestic affairs. It goes without saying that being the capital of Africa and the third largest diplomatic city in the world, Addis Ababa has no other print media with a broad coverage of international affairs from its own correspondents as that of Addis Standard, and as such the magazine has achieved its core objective of existence by being the only medium of its kind; although a couple of other magazines have followed suit and collapsed soon after.  

Thank you for the opportunity.

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Bio: (According to her profile on facebook and Twitter) Tsedale Lemma, born in 1976, is a graduate of Journalism from Addis Ababa University. She is editor-in-chief,  Addis Standard magazine and a mother of two.

* Addis Standard is a monthly English private magazine published and distributed by JAKENN Publishing P.L.C. It is registered with the Ministry of Trade and Industry of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia under license number 1552/2003, according to the description on its website.

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Please check the archives for more on the issues raised above.

* This interview is part of the “Post-Meles 2012″ Special Edition of this blog.

Source: HornAffairs.com

You are free to re-publish - just give credit to the author and to HornAffairs with a link.

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