U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia
at the Journalism Training for Editors
February 8, 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Thanks very much for this chance to be with you all this morning.
I’d like to offer a very big thank you to OBN for providing the facilities and logistical support for this training, and my sincere thanks as well to our trainers and IREX colleagues for putting the training program together.
Most importantly, my deepest thanks to each of our participants, for taking so much time out of your busy schedules to be a part of this training and to build your capacity to lead your newsrooms.
Supporting professional journalism in Ethiopia is a top priority for the United States.
Over the past year, the U.S. Embassy has provided training for well over 500 journalists all over Ethiopia, and we recently launched new initiatives to support emerging media organizations as well.
All of this is being done with an eye to ensuring that Ethiopia benefits as fully as possible from the expansion of media freedoms under Prime Minister Abiy’s leadership.
But we recognize, as I’m sure you do, that having space for media engagement isn’t enough.
Even more important is having journalists, editors, and media outlets that are prepared and motivated to fill that space fully and effectively.
This week, our efforts to empower Ethiopian professional media have focused on you as senior editors.
You are a particularly crucial piece of the puzzle, because of your ability to influence and cultivate the professionalism of your reporters, while at the same time shaping the direction of your institutions.
Our small effort toward supporting you could not come at a more critical time.
The political and economic reforms that Prime Minister Abiy has initiated are unprecedented in Ethiopia’s very long history.
The reforms offer an opportunity to build the inclusive, democratic, and prosperous future that Ethiopians have long hoped for.
But this won’t be an easy process, and an opportunity is not the same as a guarantee.
For the reform process to work, everyone needs to be involved.
There needs to be room for respectful discussion, including disagreements, about the way forward.
And the media is uniquely placed to facilitate such discussions.
This is where we feel Ethiopia needs you most.
To be a conduit between the government and the people, in both directions.
To ask the hard questions, and then check the answers for accuracy.
To be a source of reliable information – fact-based, unbiased information.
To have the strength to report the truth, even when people might not want to hear it.
To say “no” to pressure to hew to the party line – any party’s line.
To rise above the fray and put aside personal views.
And to help your audiences hold Ethiopian journalism to the highest standards of timeliness, relevance, and accuracy.
These are the core functions, and responsibilities, of independent media.
At the same time, journalists and independent media are facing new and emerging challenges, both here in Ethiopia and worldwide, that you must also grapple with on behalf of your journalists, your organizations, and your customers.
Social media has a great deal to offer our societies.
It gives everyone with internet access a voice, it eliminates the barriers of physical distance between us, and it facilitates the spread of information faster than we could have imagined.
But social media is not a replacement for journalism.
On the contrary: social media – and the hate speech and misinformation it can spread – only increases the importance of responsible journalists such as yourselves.
More than ever, the world needs journalists to check the facts, to separate knowledge from opinion, to ask the questions that aren’t being asked, and to find the answers.
In his speech to Parliament on media last week, Prime Minister Abiy raised a number of challenges currently facing the media.
But one in particular is the role of the media ahead of upcoming elections.
The capacity for upcoming elections to be free, fair, and credible depends on the quality of information that the Ethiopian people have when they make their choices at the ballot box.
It depends on giving people the information they need to understand cross-cutting issues, and not simply to vote along ethnic lines.
Ethiopians need the tools and knowledge to choose their leaders based on which politicians and policies they believe will lead to the best possible future.
They need access to objective information that will help them consider candidates’ stances on the policies that will define this country’s future, such as education, infrastructure development, health care, and strengthening government institutions.
And they need media outlets like yours to help, or even cajole, these candidates to articulate their policy platforms.
They need you to ask politicians about their policies and to fact-check their claims.
They need you to ensure that your audiences hear from the full range of candidates, and that those candidates are held equally accountable to their constituents.
What I’m describing is a daunting range of responsibilities, for you and for all Ethiopian media leaders.
But there’s no other choice.
For democracy to thrive in Ethiopia, and for the Ethiopian people to thrive in their newfound democratic space, Ethiopia’s media must do its job.
Democracy cannot exist without press freedoms.
But equally important, democracy cannot exist without courageous and tenacious journalists and editors, who use those freedoms to perform the role of the media as thoroughly and diligently as possible.
Ethiopia is pursuing a range of economic and political reforms that are stunning in their scope and significance.
The success of Ethiopia’s reform agenda will not only improve the lives of 110 million Ethiopians and set a shining example for the world; it will also improve the lives of generations to come.
But under the best of circumstances, this transition will have moments of great difficulty and uncertainty.
And through it all, all anyone can do is to do their best.
That’s what I’m asking of you: to do your best.
Take what you’ve learned from this training, take everything you already knew before this training, and take your unyielding commitment to journalistic integrity and professionalism – and apply all these things to doing your jobs to the best of your ability.
Empower your journalists to do the same, but hold them accountable too.
Challenge the status quo and look for ways to do better.
And take the public along with you on this journey, and explain to them what you’re doing to earn and justify their trust.
The work of a journalist isn’t always appreciated, it’s sometimes risky, it’s certainly not well-paid, and it’s never easy.
But it’s impossible to overstate how important it is.
My U.S. Embassy colleagues and I have the fullest admiration for what you do, and you have our commitment to supporting you to the best of our ability.
We’re always working on new programs, trainings, and opportunities to support the important work that you do, so I invite you to reach out to me or my team at the Embassy if you have ideas for how we can do that.
Thank you again for your participation in this week’s training, and for your commitment to your noble and indispensable profession.
I wish you every success.