Peter Heinlein, VOA | Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says he is prepared to order jamming of VOA broadcasts in Amharic, the country’s main official language. Mr. Meles compared VOA Amharic to the hate media that incited the Rwanda genocide.
The Ethiopian leader denies having authorized the interference VOA Amharic listeners have been experiencing since February 22. But speaking to reporters Thursday, he acknowledged ordering preparations for jamming, and said as soon as the equipment is working properly, he would give the go ahead.
“We have to know before we make the decision to jam, whether we have the capacity to do it,” said Meles Zenawi. “But I assure you if they assure me at some future date that they have the capacity to jam it, I will give them the clear guideline to jam it. But so far there has not been that formal decision to jam.”
Mr. Meles said what listeners may have been experiencing for the past four weeks is testing of the jamming equipment.
The prime minister compared VOA’s Amharic Service to Radio Mille Collines, which broadcast hate messages blamed for inciting the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.
“We have been convinced for many years that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism and engaging in destabilizing propaganda,” he said.
Voice of America Director Danforth Austin issued a statement Thursday saying, “any comparison of VOA programming to the genocidal broadcasts of Rwanda’s Radio Mille Collines is incorrect and unfortunate.”
He added, “the VOA deplores jamming as a form of media censorship wherever it may occur.”
The statement said VOA’s Amharic Service is required by law to provide accurate, objective and comprehensive news and information and abide by the highest journalistic standards.
Austin also noted that “while VOA is always ready to address responsible complaints about programming, the Government of Ethiopia has not initiated any official communication in more than two years.”
VOA language service broadcasts to Ethiopia have been jammed in the past around election times. The next election for parliament is just over two months away. But in past instances, the government denied being responsible for the jamming.
Monitors say the recent jamming has only been aimed at Amharic broadcasts, but has not affected Afan Oromo and Tigrinya language service transmissions to Ethiopia. They are heard on the same frequencies before and after the Amharic broadcast.
The Voice of America is a multi-media international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government. VOA broadcasts more than 1500 hours of news and other programming every week in 45 languages to an audience of more than 125 million people.