Experts urge mainstream media to work in curbing hate speech and fake news

Experts urge mainstream media to work in curbing hate speech and fake news

Ethnic based media are also posing a danger - According to media experts

by Eyayu Alemayehu


ADDIS ABABA -- Ethiopian mainstream media should take the lead in curbing the effects of hate speech and fake news, media experts said on Wednesday as part of the 2019 World Press Freedom Day event being held in Addis Ababa this week.

On a panel discussion held at UNECA, prominent Ethiopian journalists and academics discussed the challenges that hate speech and fake news are posing in Ethiopia -- the byproduct of the unprecedented freedom of expression brought about by the recent media liberalization reforms of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. 

Bereket Yiheyis of Mekelle University, said it is exactly this new environment of freedom of expression that is now being exploited by various groups to incite ethnicity-based violence, and that the mainstream media is falling behind.

“Since freedom of expression is not contextualized accordingly, some mainstream media are also becoming part of it,” Yiheyis said.

Media literacy, the rise of ethnic-based media, disinformation, hate speech, and incitements to violence, were all addressed by the panel as part of the Pandora's Box that's been opened in Ethiopia over the last year. 

These days, hate speech and fake news are flooding over the online media, said Eliyas Meseret, who is the Associated Press Correspondent in Ethiopia.

In Meseret’s evaluation, most of the hate speech and fake news are targeted towards ethnicity, and this makes the consequences especially hazardous.

The specific role of ethnic-based media, allowed inside the country for the first time in recent memory, was one of the main focuses of the panel. 

Melsew Dejene, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Journalism and Communication at Hawassa University, said the rise of ethnic-based media is posing a danger to society by intensifying disputes.

Ethnic media, Dejene said, is becoming a tool for politicians and activists with an agenda. 

Dejene recommended that journalists and media firms should not align themselves with interest and ethnic-based groups, but rather they should be solely dedicated to the service of truth and humanity above all.

Meseret of the Associated Press agreed, adding that ethnic-based media is fueling tensions.

“A record number of people are displaced in different parts of Ethiopia following ethnic clashes” Meseret said. “Those [ethnic-based] media are part of this problem.”

Meseret added that, this trend is majorly affecting Ethiopian society, in part because “media literacy,” that is people’s ability to discern between accurate reporting and disinformation, is so low.   

“I took the initiative and started exposing fake news and feeding the facts in different online platforms” he said.

He also urged other media outlets and journalists to do the same.

“To curb this effect, the mainstream media should work efficiently” Meseret said. “They should expose fake news and report the facts.”

In addition to efforts from the mainstream media, Meseret expressed hopes that the proposed law on hate speech could be part of the solution as well.  

The hate speech law, which has been drafted by the Ethiopian Federal Prosecutor, is expected to be ratified in the coming weeks.

The current draft states that citizens involved in either the writing or deliberate dissemination of hate speech could be put behind bars for up to three years and pay a fine of up to 10,000 Ethiopian Birr.

“I hope the upcoming law will change the media landscape for good,” Meseret stated.