Ethiopia Updates

Two quick Ethiopia updates – my open letter to Zenawi has been linked to by several other bloggers and reposted in The Witness, an online magazine oriented towards progressive Episcopalians and Anglicans. A progressive Episcopalian myself, I was particularly pleased to discover The Witness, and thrilled to discover that the piece they’d last published was by my friend Elijah Zarwan. I also realized that I’m not nearly as snarky and mean as I think I am, reading Richard Thiemes’ “High Time for Torture”, which he wisely subtitles “A Satire”.

Not a satire: Ethiopia’s government has kicked out Anthony Mitchell, the AP correspondent for the country. Andrew Heavens, a freelance journalist and the blogger behind Meskel Square, has the story of his friend’s departure, including the list of charges:

According to the Ethiopian News Agency, he was guilty of “tarnishing the image of the nation”, “repeatedly contravening journalism ethics”, “disseminating information far from the truth about Ethiopia” and, once again for luck, “[disseminating] information bent on tarnishing the image of the country”.

Mitchell is a tough reporter, but certainly not an unfair or unethical one – as Heavens points out, you just need to read his reporting via Google News to get a sense of the work he did in Ethiopia. It’s worth noting that Zenawi has been cracking down on journalists and opposition groups, charging 129 people with crimes ranging from “genocide” to “treason” – that group includes five Voice of America reporters.

Heavens points out that kicking out a good journalist just hurts the nation trying to avoid critical coverage – there’s been far more coverage of Mitchell’s expulsion than of recent requests for relief funds for Ethiopia. He’s got a good point, but I worry that the long-term damage from losing a hard-hitting correspondent is very serious. Most major newspapers don’t have Addis Ababa correspondents – we rely on AP, Reuters, AFP and other newswires – as well as bloggers like Heavens – to tell us what’s going on in Ethiopia… because, Lord knows, the Ethiopian News Agency isn’t going to tell us. I’m confident that AP will send someone else hard-hitting to cover the nation, but it takes a while to build local contacts, understand the local situation, and a new reporter won’t be as effective as a seasoned one at first.

Many thanks to Andrew Heavens for his insights on the situation, and to Anthony Mitchell for all the hard work and good reporting from Addis.

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