Friday, April 20, 2018

Debating democracy,
and media, in Ethiopia

(GONDAR, ETHIOPIA)—What is the role of the media in democracy? Is democracy necessary for journalism—and peace journalism—to function? And is western democracy a good fit in Africa generally, and Ethiopia specifically?

These were the most thought-provoking questions yesterday during my two hour presentation “Peace Journalism Principles and Practices” at the University of Gondar, where I am teaching a semester-long peace journalism project. Hosted by the journalism department, the audience of 40 (not a bad turnout) included professional journalists, students, faculty members, and assorted others.
An audience member launched the democracy discussion by noting that it’s rarely seen in Africa, and may not be a good fit here anyway. A second audience member, a visiting professor of Ethiopian descent, disagreed, and stated emphatically that he believes Ethiopia must embrace democratic traditions. I added that democracy and free media usually go hand in hand, and thus from a media standpoint, democracy is desirable. I added some nuance to my answer a half an hour later, when I bumped into the first audience member on campus. I told him that what I should have said was that the western democratic model isn’t a one size fits all construct. Indeed, we’ve seen that democracy can’t be forced—just look at Iraq and Afghanistan, along with many of countries of the former Soviet Union.
My larger point is that democracy, in whatever form, and respect for civil liberties are vitally important ingredients if free media, and particularly peace journalism, are to flourish.

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