TMS PEACE JOURNALISM, 25 May 2015
Tedla D. Tekle – TRANSCEND Media Service
Zelalem Workagegnehu is my good friend. He is amongst the scores of Ethiopian writers, academics and bloggers detained in Kilinto prison, Ethiopia charged with having links to Diaspora based Ethiopian opposition Movement, Ginbot 7. He is one of the most outstanding academics (always an A student) and peaceful friends I have known. Along with Zelalem, his three other colleagues: Yonatan Wolde, Abraham Solomon and Bahiru Degu, who were also suspected of links with Ginbot 7, but were allegedly arrested for applying for an internet security and social media training abroad, are currently being detained in the same prison. When Zelalem co-blogged from Addis, I wrote them while in Ireland and even though most of our pieces appeared with our pennames at debirhan.com, we have been able to glide a bit in the Ethiopian online mediaspehere during the high days of the Ethiopian social media, before many online activists and bloggers such as Zone 9 bloggers were either charged, detained or forced to flee.
Zelalem has been doing his Masters Degree in Public Administration at the Addis Abeba University, at the time of his arrest on July 8, 2014. He was doing his activism while at the same time pursuing his life dreams of working as an academic. This is where the crux of my article comes in. Often in academia and mediation, we hear of the ethics and valuable principle of neutrality and objectivity, which means the journalist or the academic, is a person, who does not take sides, does not stand for the victim or the assailant or suggests a solution to the crises or injustice. This is the traditional and mainstream approach to mediation and scholarship; journalists and academics are simply conduits and channels of information and intellectualism of the hegemonic, often than not. It is a professional detachment, in other words.
The journalism or academia of attachment has been widely popularised by Martin Bell in the 1990s, however the genre had existed even before he officialised it. The argument of this genre of journalism, it does work well in the academic sector too, is that journalists or academics can be neutral and objective but they should not remain detached in the face of injustice. It argues that for fear of losing the handcuffs of professional neutrality and objectivity and in the worst-case scenario being labelled, arrested or charged for supporting and having links with the groups, academics and journalists must not remain silent.
Albeit initially introduced in war reporting, a journalism of attachment is being advanced to all types and stages of injustices and reporting. The attachment argument, however, has been criticised for not offering a binding argument of who the victim or abuser is and also devil’s advocacy. For the sake of clarity, here victims are defined as minorities and civilians with no power while the victimisers are those with political power (mostly military and violent) in an asymmetric conflict or relationship. A good example of such a person would be an academic, who often writes or attends a rally on the occupied territories or a journalist, who writes from the protestor’s angle in Baltimore or takes part in a rally in Baltimore himself. Detached journalists and academics are the people partly responsible for the intensification and spread of injustices and insecurities in the world, it may be argued.
I believe my friend Zelalem, Zone 9 bloggers and many African journalists and academics, who have widely made use of the alternative media, are victims of the consequences of an attached journalism and academia.
Ethiopia will hold its fifth general election on May 24, 2015. Ahead of the election a number of critical opposition politicians, journalists and citizen writers have been detained. Strong opposition parties have been factionalised and the Electoral Board authorised the factions that were considered to be “pro government” by most media outlets and opposition groups. Few opposition parties with fewer candidates than the ruling party, EPRDF have fielded their candidates.
The trial of prominent opposition politicians, academics and bloggers detained since the beginning of 2014 now including Zone 9 bloggers, along whom is another good friend of mine, Asmamaw Hailegeorgis of the de funct Addis Guday newspaper, is set to continue in the next few weeks. Post the election, we hope and wish to see the eyes of our good friends live and free.
As much as an extra-professional attachment is entering the African media and academic sphere, so would a politics of attachment enter our public and private spheres. It is my sincerest wish that my native Ethiopia and Africa do economically and politically excellent but this cannot be achieved unless people in powers and the elites allow their youth, the likes of Zelalem, to speak and contemplate boundlessly but also responsibly without fear of reprisals.
Tedla D. Tekle is an independent researcher currently focusing on the links between the media, conflict and peace. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org“.