Ethiopian media practitioners have expressed disappointment after Parliament finally endorsed the county's media law, widely  seen as
contravening freedom of expression and international human rights, writes Tizita Kebede in the Monitor.

The Ethiopian law makers on Tuesday hastily approved in to law the controversial press draft law which has been under review quite for long, a day before a media forum was to discuss and debate it, in a final bid to make amendments.

Deputy House Speaker Shitaye Minale readout the finalized press law after which it was taken for vote, with out giving enough room for a debate by opposition.

Speaking at a media forum on Wednesday, Amare Aregawi, Editor-In-Chief of the Reporter Newspaper, an Amharic by weekly and English weekly newspaper said the forum invited MPs to discuss and debate on the Draft Mass Media and Freedom of Information Law.

But, alas, the House had already passed the law, and there was no "Draft Law" to talk about, he told fellow journalists at a workshop organized by the Horn of Africa Press Institute (HAPI) with the support of UNESCO and UN Human Rights organization.

Representing HAPI, Amare Aregawi opened the full-day discussion by stressing that whether or not new media laws are made or changed, debating upon the existing ones is a valid course of action since four or more other statutes (excluding the just passed one) that prevail intermingled in legal documents of the Ministry of Information, the broadcasting law, as well as in the Customs, Trade and investment laws, etc. concern and apparently restrict journalists' right to information and freedom of expression.

Mr. Patrice Vahard, UNOHCHR Representative, briefly highlighted that "a free, secure, and independent media is one of the foundations of human rights"; adding that an attack on them is a violation of the internationally respected human rights provisions.

By drawing on the experiences of different countries in addition to the provisions of the European Court of Human Rights, Mehari Tadele, legal expert from the Africa Union spoke on the vulnerability of the Freedom of Expression to be blocked and abrogated by authorities, more so in less democratically developed nations.

He elaborated on the short comes of the newly proclaimed Ethiopian media law such that the impounding of press products for unclearly defined causes; the prolonged days a journalist has to wait before receiving information from officials; the enactments which holds responsible all persons involved in the writing and publication to the sales of media products, among others, which he said are pressing and unacceptable within the realm of international values.

He, however, appreciated the repeal of journalists' detention for alleged breaching of the law.

Abdu Ali, Private Representative, spoke further on the cons that the Ethiopian media outlets suffer from the press statutes.

He said that the 100,000 birr fine for defamation charges exceeds exponentially those fines for much harsher offenses like rape and child labor abuse which extend only upto a 1000 birr.

Moreover, he opposed the needless authorization of the Ministry of Information for the issuing of media licenses while, since 1989 EC, that responsibility has been officially granted by parliament to the Ministry of Trade and Industry.

After dialogues between the panelists and discussants – that consisted mainly of junior to senior media practitioners, also political, legal, and economic experts – the workshop was winded by passing five resolutions. Particularly central of the resolutions, the high fines for defamation charges were said need revision; and the authority of media licensing was stressed requires an independent issuing body.

The participants also proposed the induction of self-regulatory bodies like of press councils that serve to bring forth quality media standards.

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