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IPI calls on governments of Ethiopia and Kenya to stop pressuring broadcaster

Kenya's 'Nation' Media Group Tells IPI It Will Resist Government Pressure Over Investigative Documentary about Ethiopian Rebel Fighters

(IPI/IFEX) - Vienna, 11 August 2009 – Kenya's Nation Media Group will resist pressure from both the Ethiopian and Kenyan Governments, and complete the broadcast of a four-part Nation Television (NTV) investigative documentary on rebel fighters in Ethiopia, sources inside the news organisation have told the International Press Institute (IPI).

"Inside Rebel Territory: Rag-Tag Fighters of the Oromo Liberation Front," a four-part series following separatist 'Oromo Liberation Front' (OLF) rebels in Ethiopia's southern bush land, first sparked diplomatic reactions from the Ethiopian government while the documentary was still being promoted.

Pressure began when the Ethiopian ambassador sent a protest letter on 30 July to the Nation Media Group stating that it was not in Ethiopia's national security interest for the programme to be aired, and calling for the broadcasts to be stopped.

Ethiopia has been fighting OLF rebels in the region for close to 30 years, but denies the existence of the organisation, claiming that it has long been defeated.

"For two weeks (the Ethiopian government) tried all they could, including talking to the Kenyan government, to persuade us to stop the broadcast," one source who worked on the documentary told IPI.

The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry even summoned the Kenyan ambassador to Ethiopia, while the Kenyan Information Ministry held a meeting with representatives of the Nation Media Group.

"To be fair to the Ministry of Information, they were not seeking to stop us, they simply wanted to tell us formally as a government that the Ethiopians were unhappy, and ask that we take their feelings into account in the programme," Joe Odindo, Group Managing Editor of the Nation Media Group, noted to IPI.

The Nation Media Group agreed to this by offering the Ethiopian ambassador a long interview in the programme, but the Ethiopian government refused an interview unless NTV pulled the broadcast, Odindo said. The Ethiopian ambassador to Kenya and NTV editors held another meeting on 7 August, following the broadcast of the first episode, at which the Ethiopians reiterated their calls for the programme to be stopped.

In the face of this pressure, the Nation Media Group decided to delay the broadcast while it reviewed the remaining material for balance and accuracy, and removed the previous episodes from YouTube.

However, the media group's board decided to continue with the remaining broadcasts, the last of which airs tonight, and which attempts to portray the rebel issue from the Ethiopian government's perspective, while highlighting the difficulties NTV have experienced getting the programme broadcast.

"The Nation Media Group, as a responsible media group, listens to reactions from everyone about their programming, especially if they come from a government we are reporting on," said Odindo. "We weigh the complaints we get, and we respond to them responsibly without undermining our right to cover issues of importance to Kenyans."

"When dealing with the complaints from the Ethiopian government, we were all along conscious of our commitments to our viewers and our mission to inform Kenyans, and at the same time, to consider the interests of the Kenyan nation in its relations with other countries. Balancing these two was a challenge we faced throughout, and even when we held the programme for two days, it was out of the conviction that our right to inform others doesn't exist to the exclusion of other people's interests in being covered fairly."

"We are ultimately satisfied that the programme is balanced, complete, and that we have done everything possible to include the point of view of the Ethiopian government, even thought the ambassador refused to participate in it," said Odindo.

"IPI is concerned at the pressure exerted on the Nation Media Group by the Ethiopian government," said IPI Deputy Director Michael Kudlak, "particularly given Ethiopia's poor record on press freedom. It is equally regrettable that the Kenyan government should back Ethiopia in these repressive efforts against a Kenyan broadcaster. We ask that both governments desist from exerting any further pressure."

Ethiopia recently passed "anti-terrorist" legislation giving the government broad powers to imprison for as long as 20 years "whosoever writes, edits, prints, publishes, publicizes, disseminates" statements deemed "encouraging, supporting, or advancing" terrorist acts.

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