Ethiopian / MIRH/ 14 MAR 2022
by Fekadu Alemu
Writing on Ethiopian media history is a bit challenging since there has not been a well-organized document that accounts for the long journey. In this regard, “The Quest for Press Freedom” is the first by its type of volume and a comprehensive document written by Dr. Meseret Chekol Reta. The book has provided the long journey of one hundred years of history of the media in Ethiopia that includes all collective documents in a single volume. The book focuses on the building of a modern mass media in Ethiopia: the monarchy era, the Marxist military regime, and the current ethnic federalist regime.
We can say this book is a complete picture of Ethiopian media history from its inception to its current status. The book is available online and yet not translated from English into Amharic. Meseret Chekol Reta (Ph.D.) was teaching in the department of journalism at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls until his death in November 2012. He received his Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Minnesota, where he also received two master’s degrees: one in mass communication and the other in political science.
In the 1980s he served as a radio journalist for eight years in Ethiopia. For the past few years, Dr. Reta has been a frequent guest on the Amharic Service of Voice of America, commenting on various issues including press freedom in Ethiopia and U.S. electoral politics. In 2007 he co-founded and served as president of the Ethiopian Biographical Resource Center, a project that records biographical information on prominent Ethiopians who have made significant contributions to Ethiopia.
Therefore, we have tried to bring here important chapters that capture the history of traditional and modern mass media development in Ethiopia.
The Transition from Traditional to Modern Forms of Mass Communication
In Ethiopia, one may speak of the traditional mass communication system at two levels: the one used by communities, and the other used by the rulers. In everyday life, social events such as weddings and funerals are announced by families to members of the community, seeking their participation. Societies across Ethiopia have different systems of communicating with their members regarding such events. In northern societies, for example, in addition to the usual word of mouth, weddings may be announced by the family head or representative at church after prayer services.
In the case of funerals, the village or town crier commands the attention of the community early in the morning with his bugle call and announces the funeral of the deceased. In such social functions, the role of the communicators is not only to inform but also to invite members of the community to participate. Again messengers are sent to friends and relatives in distant places, and those who hear about it are urged to pass it onto others. That way, funerals, and weddings are rituals performed in the presence and participation of a large number of people.
The Afar of northeastern Ethiopia is distinguished for a rather regimented system of mass communication called Dagu, which they keep to this day.