Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The constitution guarantees freedom of the press; however, the government often restricts this right. Authorities frequently invoke the 1992 Law on the Press regarding publication of false and offensive information, incitement of ethnic hatred, or libel in order to justify the arrest and detainment of journalists. Court cases can drag on for years, and journalists often have multiple charges pending against them. In April, an editor was imprisoned for a month after he was unable to pay an additional bail imposed when he missed a court date. In September, Tewodros Kassa, former editor in chief of the weekly Ethiop, was released from prison after more than two years. He was scheduled for release in June after serving out his full 2002 defamation sentence but was convicted of a separate defamation charge and sentenced to an additional three months. In late December, another editor of Ethiop was charged with criminal defamation and jailed for a week when he was unable to pay his bail.
International and local press freedom organizations continued in 2004 to criticize the government's draft press law, which was drafted with a complete lack of transparency. The law calls for restrictions on who can practice journalism, government-controlled licensing and registration systems, broad exceptions to the right to access information, and the establishment of a government-controlled Press Council. The draft law also stipulates harsh sentences for violations, including up to five years' imprisonment. In September, in response to international concerns, the information minister agreed to review some of the provisions in the draft bill, but he had failed to do so by year's end. The Ethiopian Free Press Journalists Association (EFJA), one of the most vocal opponents of the draft press law, continued to struggle against the government. Authorities first suspended the organization in November 2003 for failing to submit a certified audit; and in January 2004, the government removed EFJA's executive board and appointed new members. In December, a federal court declared the 14-month-old government ban null and void. However, a few days later a government order reversed the court ruling.
The state controls all broadcast media and operates the only television station. A 1999 law permits private radio stations, but to date no licenses have been issued. There are approximately 150 print outlets that publish regularly and provide diverse views. The private press continues to criticize the government but is constrained by low circulation figures and financial struggles. The Ministry of Information requires newspapers to have a minimum bank balance in order to renew their annual publishing licenses. Printing presses are all government owned, and private publications are periodically unable to use them. Foreign journalists operate with fewer restrictions than their local counterparts and are often granted greater access. The prime minister's office denies access to the independent press, limiting coverage of official events to state-owned media outlets. Authorities occasionally detain, beat, or otherwise harass journalists. As a result, reporters often practice self-censorship.