VOA embroiled in fresh censorship row. By Abebe Gellaw

The Voice of America (VOA) has faced fresh controversy over its decision not to air news coverage on a high profile public meeting held Sunday at the Sheraton National Hotel, in Arlington, Virginia. Despite the fact that VOA Horn of Africa section, including the Amharic service, had sent reporters to cover the public event that was focused on the future of Ethiopia, the decision to censor a report on the event was made by senior VOA bosses, informed sources told Addis Voice.

Jointly organized by the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy and the Alliance for Liberty Equality and Justice in Ethiopia (ALEJE), the well-attended meeting held discussions on current political situations and the future direction of the struggle to create a new Ethiopia that is founded on justice, equality, democracy and respect for human rights.

Ginbot 7 chairman, Dr. Birhanu Nega, Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) Executive Committee Member, Dr. Nuro Dedefo, and Harper College Economics Professor Getachew Begashaw had taken turns to emphasize on the need to embark on efforts to unify Ethiopians of all stripes in the struggle for freedom, justice and dignity.

VOA’s unusual move to cut out an important event, where OLF publicly declared the need to work hand in glove with other Ethiopian freedom forces for the first time, has outraged many Ethiopians.

Mr. Neamin Zeleke, one of the key organizers of the meeting and Secretary of ALEJE, which a coalition of Ginbot 7, Afar People’s Party and Ethiopian Unity and Justice Movement, told Addis Voice that VOA has appeared to succumb to the pressures of dictators in Ethiopia who are known to be allergic to the truth.

“I am not only outraged but also found the action fundamentally contrary to the Constitution of the United States,” he said. Neamin noted that the conference was a historic milestone that should have been properly covered by VOA, which was seen as a reputable broadcaster among many Ethiopians. He added that VOA must adhere to its own missions, principles and tenets regardless of any pressures from tyrants such as Bereket Simon that want to muffle every little voice in Ethiopia.

“It appears now that Bereket Simon, an arch enemy of free press, has become the editor-in-chief of VOA by proxy,” Neamin said. According to Neamin, Ethiopians will petition US Congress to look into complaints of malpractice and censorship at the VOA that seems to be willfully bending itself too much to lullaby insolent dictators that do not understand the rights and liberty of others.

Dr. Nuro Dedefo, Executive Committee Member and Head of Legal Affairs at the OLF, expressed disquiet over recent developments at VOA. He pointed out that the people of Ethiopia have no opportunity to receive and impart information and ideas freely. He noted that given the fact that the mission of VOA was to facilitate the free flow of ideas and information, its decision not to transmit reports on an important event is contrary to its missions and commitments to freedom of expression.

“VOA has been transmitting fact-based information to the people of Ethiopia for a long time…. What is really sad is that VOA has decided not to transmit free expressions and information as a result of pressures from the regime,” he said. Dr. Nuro added that such malpractice and censorship must stop and VOA should transmit facts and ideas freely regardless of the efforts of the Ethiopian government to shut out dissident voices.

Ginbot 7 Chairman, Dr. Berhanu Nega, emphasized on his part the uniqueness and importance of the public meeting and said that VOA had an obligation to cover the event. “I was shocked to hear that a decision was made to ban the report from reaching the people of Ethiopia,” he said.
Dr. Berhanu noted that VOA’s decision to impose information blackout should not be tolerated. He said that Ginbot 7 as well as all freedom loving Ethiopians must not tolerate such an outrageous measure that should be challenged through various ways.

VOA has first raised eyebrows among Ethiopians when it decided to suspend its Horn of Africa chief, David Arnold, who has now been reinstated, over critical comments he made on a June 23 VOA report, which was deleted from its website without any explanations, apologies or corrections. But it has emerged that Mr. Arnold will not serve as Horn of Africa chief as he will be transferred to another section, our investigation can reveal.

In response to questions raised by Addis Voice, the executive editor and acting director of VOA, Steve Redisch confirmed that “VOA is reviewing Ethiopian government’s complaints as we review any complaints about programming from any person or government.” Addis Voice has obtained the 42-page document much of which is frivolous complaints on the opinion of dissident voices. The “confidential” document will be published very soon.
The lengthy complaint contains a long list of “offensive” opinions and criticisms of a number of individuals. Some of the people mentioned for offending the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia via VOA are: Eskinder Nega, Tamgne Beyene, Neamin Zeleke, Prof. Getachew Haile, Dr. Berhnu Nega , Dr. Merara Gudina, Dr. Hailu Araya, Jawar Mohammed, Seye Abraha, Dr. Negaso Gidada, Dr. Kassa Ayalew, Bekele Gerba, Dr. Getachew Begashaw and Asayesh Tamru, among many others.

Addis Voice will soon publish the “confidential” document, which provides incontrovertible evidence that the Meles regime wants to silence every critic and dissident view. The document also raises serious questions on VOA’s wisdom to investigate the opinions of Ethiopian government critics. Some VOA staff members have been spending their valuable time, including their weekends, transcribing and translating archived programs for the benefit of senior bosses who have seriously taken Bereket Simon’s frivolous complaints, according to reliable sources.

Ethiopian activists are gearing up to hold a no-censorship rally at VOA headquarters in Washington DC and petition US Congress to investigate allegations of censorship and malpractice against VOA, it was learnt.