Ethiopia: Gov’t moves to shut down MiMi Sebhatu’s FM radio

Ethiopia’s media licensing agency moves to shut down FM 90.7 of Zami Public Connections, as the radio refuses to cancel its popular radio program, EthiopikaLink.

The radio station, owned by veteran journalist Mimi Sebhatu – former reporter of the Voice of America (VOA) Amharic service, and her husband Zerihun Teshome, is one of Ethiopia’s first private FM radios.

According to the letter leaked to HornAffairs, the Ethiopian Broadcast Authority (EBA) ordered indefinite termination of the station as of today, June 18, 2015.

The dispute between the radio station and EBA revolve around a popular radio show EthiopikaLink, which is run by journalist Birhane Nigussie and known for its insider stories, among others.

EBA had issued an ultimatum, at the beginning of last week, demanding the radio take-down EthiopikaLink or face closure. The radio station, however, refused to comply claiming the order is unconstitutional and undermines the integrity of the station.

EthiopikaLink was previously taken down, in August 2012, from Fana radio – owned by ruling party parastatals – after airing a politically sensitive gossip. Months later, the show resumed on FM 90.7, where it is still hosted.

An editor of the show, speaking in a private conversation last December, had told HornAffairs that they are pleased with their current editorial independence. It appears Mimi Sebhatu is trying to live up to that perception by refusing to take down the program.

According to sources in the radio station, EBA’s displeasure with the show is related to a segment on Artist Daniel Tegegn, about whom unpleasant details were presented.

HornAffairs was not able to confirm the details as EBA’s chief was not immediately available, while Mimi Sebhatu politely declined to comment on the matter without confirming or denying anything.

Nevertheless, the sources asserted that there has been a long paper trail between EBA and the radio station – most of which were CC’d to several senior officials, including the Prime Minister’s office.

The radio station announced to its staff this morning that its services will be halted at 2 pm, in compliance with EBA’s orders.

Yet, the radio was still on air at the writing of this news. Which is indicative of differences of opinions in the power corridors, which might have paused the orders for shut down .

FM 90.7 was one of the first two FM radios launched nine years ago. It was widely considered as a loosening of the tight grip on electronic media. Yet, so far, only two more FM radios had been licensed and that happened last year.

The radio is perceived as pro-government and, apparently for that very reason, it was denied the opportunity to host a British funded 6.3 million dollars worth show. Yet, ruling party officials often grumble about the segments aired on the radio.

The move to close the FM radio, if it materializes, would signal the final chapter in the history of Ethiopian private media.


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