Thursday, July 3, 2008

Free but not that free

New Ethiopian media law draws criticism

Wed 2 Jul 2008, 16:58 GMT

By Tsegaye Tadesse

NAIROBI, July 2 (Reuters) - Ethiopia's parliament has passed a new media law which bans censorship of private media and detention of journalists, but which critics said on Wednesday retained other threats to free expression.

The parliament, led by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian Peoples Revolutionary Democratic Front, said on Wednesday the new Mass Media and Freedom of Information Law was based on international concepts of press freedom.

"Under the new law, previous restrictions against private media outlets, such as detention of journalists suspected of infringement of the law, has been scrapped," a parliament statement said. The vote passed on Tuesday.

But opposition members said the law still allowed state prosecutors to invoke national security as grounds for impounding publishing materials prior to publication and distribution.

"Although censorship is abolished, such a right to impound press material before distribution is tantamount to censorship," opposition parliamentarian Temesgen Zewede told Reuters.

Bulcha Demeksa, leader of the opposition Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement described the new law as "draconian".

"I consider the day on which this law was enacted as a dark day in the annals of Ethiopian history," he said.

Journalists will under the new law have the right to set up an independent press council.

Meles, once considered a pioneer of democracy in Africa, has seen his reputation wane since post-election violence that killed some 200 people in 2005.

An ensuing crackdown on opposition members and journalists viewed as sympathetic to them prompted aid cuts and sharp criticism from the West.

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