U.S.-funded broadcaster Voice of America’s (VOA) local Amharic language service in Ethiopia will be blocked because it is destabilising the country, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi says. The Horn of Africa country holds national elections in May and international press freedom advocacy groups say the government is cracking down on the media ahead of the poll.
The government denies that. “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 engaging in destabilising propaganda,” Meles said late Thursday. Radio Mille Collines was a Rwandan radio station blamed by many for broadcasting racist propaganda that helped spark the 1994 genocide.
Analysts say Ethiopia is the key U.S. ally in the Horn of Africa. VOA says its broadcasts into Ethiopia in the dominant Amharic language have been jammed for three weeks. It also transmits in the Ethiopian languages, Afan Oromo and Tigrinya. Those services have been unaffected. The broadcaster was set up during World War Two to counter anti-U.S. propaganda and broadcasts in 45 languages.
“We have given up on the objectivity of the VOA service and we have been trying to beef up our capacity to deal with it, including through jamming,” Meles said, adding government officials have been working on blocking the service. “If they assure me at some future date that they have the capacity to jam (VOA), I will give them the clear guideline to jam it,” he told reporters.
VOA said in a statement that it has not had talks with the Ethiopian government for more than two years. “Any comparison of VOA programming to the genocidal broadcasts of Rwanda’s Radio Mille Collines is incorrect and unfortunate,” it said. Analysts expect the Meles government to win the elections. The opposition say that is because they are harassed and jailed. The government says the opposition are trying to discredit the poll because they have no chance of winning.