U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at a round table with VOA team and journalists
U.S. Embassy, Addis Ababa
October 24, 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Good afternoon everyone.
I’d like to thank our friends from Voice of America for organizing this roundtable, and especially to thank all of you for your commitment to your profession.
Professional journalism is hard work.
It takes effort, commitment, and in today’s world, courage.
But it’s also incredibly important.
As Ethiopia pursues its unprecedented democratic and economic reforms, thoughtful, impactful, and high-quality journalism is more important than ever before.
Ethiopia needs you.
Ethiopia needs you because having access to credible and unbiased information, and being able to use that information to make wise decisions, is a fundamental requirement of any democracy.
Democracies simply don’t survive if information flows only from the government to the governed; rather, democracies must sustain, and benefit from, conversations in all directions.
And the better-informed those conversation are, the stronger the democracy.
That’s where everyone in this room comes in.
As Ethiopia’s reform efforts continue, both the government and the people will need credible and responsible media outlets.
Journalism must ensure that people are informed about what the government, opposition groups, and civil society are saying and doing.
No less important, journalism must also scrutinize these actors and their actions, provide context, research the facts, and present a range of views to help people understand the options before them and reach well-informed conclusions.
Journalism best meets these needs when it objectively reflects a range of views, provides a platform for discussion that is open to all voices, welcomes constructive dissent, and is as inclusive as possible.
For journalism to play its essential role, certain principles are fundamentally important.
First, the media must trade in facts, not speculation.
Second, the media must avoid bias by creating space for diverse views.
Third, the media must not only present diverse views, but exercise judgement and provide context when reporting on those views.
This is essential in helping people sort opinion from fact to assess the credibility of various voices.
While featuring diverse voices is important, journalists need to track down the facts and help the Ethiopian people sort through the tremendous volume of information, and mis-information, that inundates us all in these complicated times.
And finally, journalists must remember that journalism and activism are not the same things.
Both are important in a democracy, and no democracy can survive without them both, but confusing the two harms the integrity and credibility of the journalist, while doing a disservice to the audience as well.
As I said earlier, professional journalism is hard work.
We at the U.S. Embassy know and appreciate this, and we’re committed to improving your access to the tools, learning opportunities, and space for you to do your jobs.
Back in August, we held our annual dialogue with the Ethiopian government on democracy, human rights, and governance here in Addis.
One of the key outcomes of this dialogue was an agreement to explore ways the United States can help support professional journalism in Ethiopia.
We welcome His Excellency Prime Minister Dr. Abiy’s prioritization of media freedom and reform, and look forward to supporting these positive developments.
But it will take more than changing the law to advance the profession of journalism.
The United States is committed to doing our part.
Our Embassy recently concluded a program that trained over 260 journalists, in every region of Ethiopia, on investigative reporting focused on exploring the impact that development projects have on the country.
We’ve brought Fulbright Scholars and Specialists, and Ambassador’s Distinguished Scholars, to work with journalists and journalism students, as part of our ongoing collaboration with Ethiopian universities to strengthen the next generation of Ethiopian journalists.
Next week, we’ll begin another training program, in partnership with the British Embassy, that will increase transparency and the flow of information between journalists and government officials.
We’re launching a fund to support the sustainability and professionalism of new independent media houses.
And we continue to send Ethiopian government officials on exchange programs to the United States, to share our experience in creating an enabling environment for broadcast media.
Such programs are intended to invest in you, Ethiopia’s professional journalists, and the important work that you do.
All we ask in return is that you do your best.
Do your best to take your stories a step further, to ask the hard questions, to track down additional sources, to question what you think you know, and, most importantly, to be forthright about what you don’t know.
And then to share that information with the public in a way that leaves them well-informed, while leaving it up to them to form their own opinions and conclusions.
As Ethiopia approaches upcoming local and national elections, journalists like you can play a tremendous role in focusing public discourse on the issues that matter to people.
How will various parties and candidates create jobs; support an inclusive political environment; provide security without infringing on rights; and improve education, health care, and other citizens’ services?
By asking such questions, and by providing factual context to the answers, you can help your fellow citizens make informed decisions when they cast their ballots.
But remember that elections are just one part of the democratic process.
In many ways, the real work starts after the results are tallied.
In a democracy, journalists play an essential role in holding elected officials accountable for their promises, and must ensure that the public is informed about what their elected officials are doing.
Democracy, like journalism, takes hard work, and journalism and democracy are inextricably linked.
In the end, neither one can thrive without the other.
As Ethiopia embarks upon a fundamentally new era of democracy, the work you do is more important than ever.
I hope that in your discussion today, you will consider what steps are needed to empower the media in Ethiopia.
And if you identify areas where the United States can help, please let us know.
Thank you again for your commitment to your noble and essential profession, and know that you have the full support of the United States every step of the way.