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Calls Grow Against Media Suspensions in Ethiopia

Somali region, Ethiopia
Somali region, Ethiopia

Calls are growing for Ethiopia to revoke an order that suspended 15 foreign media outlets and a regional journalists' association from operating in the country's eastern Somali Regional State.

The state's media regulator issued indefinite suspensions to the news outlets, which include the BBC Somali service, on Jan. 28.

The regulator's order said the media organizations did not have the necessary licensing for foreign media, and it blocked the news outlets and their representatives from working in the state, according to rights groups.

A few days later, a regional body that oversees civil society groups revoked the license of the Somali Region Journalists Association (SRJA).

In its letter to the association, the regional authorities said that the SRJA had "acted inappropriately," according to reports.

The action came after the chair of the SRJA criticized the suspension of the media outlets, and accused the local authority of suppressing media freedom, according to an Ethiopian nonprofit, the Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy.

The actions by the regional authorities "have eroded reporting in the region and paint a picture of a government unwilling to make room for dissenting voices," said Committee to Protect Journalists representative Muthoki Mumo in a statement. "Authorities should allow journalists from these outlets to resume their jobs [and] ensure that enforcement of licensing regulations is not used to muzzle the media."

The media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) also criticized the moves.

"These attacks on press freedom pose a grave danger to the media environment in the region and the country as a whole," said RSF Africa bureau director Sadibou Marong in a statement Tuesday. "The region's authorities must urgently lift the suspension of these 15 foreign media, which is clearly an attempt to prevent the press from covering sensitive subjects."

RSF reported that the affected media outlets had recently requested their licenses be renewed, but they did not receive a response to those requests.

The Somali Regional State media regulator was cited in reports as saying it was working to comply with federal licensing regulations for foreign news outlets.

Ethiopia's main media regulator has said it was not informed in advance about the plan to issue suspensions, RSF reported.

Ethiopia's embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to VOA's emailed request for comment.

Media in Ethiopia have come under pressure since the war in Tigray in November 2020 and ethnic clashes elsewhere in the country. Journalists who don't report the government line risk arrest or having their media operations suspended, rights groups say.

The country ranks poorly on the World Press Freedom Index, with RSF saying that gains made in recent years "have been lost since Ethiopia become embroiled in ethnic conflicts and a civil war."

The country currently ranks 114 out of 180 countries, where 1 denotes the best media environment on RSF's index.