American ambassador to Ethiopia
at a round table with VOA team and journalists
American embassy, Addis Ababa
October 24, 2018
“Journalism and activism are not the same, both are important in a democracy, and no democracy can survive without them both.” The confusion of the two damages the integrity and credibility of the journalist, while it is a bad service to the public. “- Ambassador Mike @VOANews
– American Embassy Addis (@USEmbassyAddis) October 24, 2018
“In a democracy, journalists play an essential role by holding elected officials accountable for their promises, and ensuring that the public is informed about what their elected officials are doing.” – Ambassador Mike
– American Embassy Addis (@USEmbassyAddis) October 24, 2018
(As prepared for delivery)
Good evening everyone.
I would like to thank our friends of Voice of America for organizing this round table and above all to thank everyone for your commitment to your profession.
Professional journalism is hard work.
It requires effort, commitment and in the world today, courage.
But it is also incredibly important.
While 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 every democracy.
Democracies simply do not survive when information only flows from the government to the governed; on the contrary, democracies must support and benefit from conversations in all directions.
And the better informed that conversation is, the stronger democracy.
That is where everyone enters this room.
As the reform efforts of Ethiopia continue, both the government and the population need credible and responsible media channels.
Journalism must ensure that people are informed about what the government, opposition groups and civil society organizations say and do.
No less important, journalism also needs to critically follow these actors and their actions, provide context, investigate the facts and present a series of opinions to help people understand the options available to them and draw well-informed conclusions.
Journalism meets these needs best when the lens reflects a series of viewpoints, offers a discussion platform that is open to all voices, welcomes constructive dissenting opinions and is as inclusive as possible.
In order for journalism to play an essential role, certain principles are of fundamental importance.
First, the media must act in fact, not in speculation.
Second, the media must avoid bias by creating space for different views.
Thirdly, the media must not only present different views, but also offer judgment and context in reporting these views.
This is essential to help people gauge their opinions from fact to assess the credibility of different voices.
Although it is important to have different voices, journalists need to track down the facts and help the Ethiopian people to search through the vast amount of information and misinformation that engulf us all in these complicated times.
And finally journalists must remember that journalism and activism are not the same.
Both are important in a democracy, and no democracy can survive without these two, but confusingly, the two harm the integrity and credibility of the journalist, while also rendering a bad service to the public.
As I said before, professional journalism is hard work.
We at the US Embassy know and appreciate this and we are doing everything we can to improve your access to the tools, learning opportunities and space for you to do your job.
In August we held our annual dialogue with the Ethiopian government on democracy, human rights and governance here in Addis.
One of the most important results of this dialogue was an agreement to examine how the United States can help support professional journalism in Ethiopia.
We welcome the priority given to his Excellency Prime Minister. Abiy attributes freedom and reform to the media, and looks forward to supporting these positive developments.
But it takes more than changing the law to promote the profession of journalist.
The United States do everything to do our part.
Our embassy recently completed a program that has trained more than 260 journalists, in each region of Ethiopia, in research reports aimed at investigating the impact development projects have on the land.
We have brought Fulbright scientists and specialists and Distinguished Scholars of ambassadors together 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 will start a new training program, in collaboration with the British embassy, that will increase the transparency and information flow between journalists and government officials.
We are 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 environment for broadcast media.
Such programs are meant to invest in you, professional journalists from Ethiopia, and the important work 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 tricky questions, to find additional sources, to ask what you think you know, and, most importantly, to be candid about what you do not know .
And then to share that information with the public in a way that leaves them well informed, while leaving it to them to form their own opinions and conclusions.
As Ethiopia meets emerging local and national elections, journalists like you can play a great role by focusing public discourse on things that matter to people.
How will different parties and candidates create jobs? supporting an inclusive political environment; provide security without infringing rights; and improvement of education, healthcare and services of other citizens?
By asking such questions and by giving the factual context to the answers, you can help your fellow citizens to make informed decisions when they vote.
But remember that elections are only part of the democratic process.
In many ways, the real work begins after the results are counted.
In a democracy, journalists play an essential role in keeping elected officials accountable for their promises, and ensure that the public is informed about what their elected officials are doing.
Democracy, like journalism, costs hard, and journalism and democracy are inextricably linked.
In the end, neither can thrive without the other.
While Ethiopia is starting a fundamentally new era of democracy, the work you do is more important than ever.
I hope that in your discussion today you will think about the steps needed to strengthen the media in Ethiopia.
And let us know if you identify areas where the United States can help.
Thanks again for your commitment to your noble and essential profession, and know that you have the full support of the United States at every step of the way.