By Alex Belida
We are all accustomed to hearing political figures, especially from authoritarian countries, make outrageous statements.
But I think Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi may have uttered the most outrageous statement of all this past month when he compared Voice of America broadcasts to Ethiopia to the broadcasts of Radio Milles Collines, the infamous “hate radio” blamed for inciting the Rwandan genocide of 1994.
Here is what Ethiopia’s state-run news agency quoted Meles as saying:
“We have been convinced for many years and that in many respects, the VOA Amharic Service has copied the worst practices of radio stations such as the Radio Mille Collines of Rwanda, in its wanton disregard of minimum ethics of journalism, and engaging in destabilizing propaganda.”
Meles’ opposition to VOA broadcasts is being used as justification for Ethiopian jamming of VOA broadcasts. It now appears his government is expanding its censorship effort by blocking VOA’s website.
The U.S. government recently fired back at the Ethiopian leader. Acting State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid says Meles may disagree with the news carried by VOA but jamming VOA signals contradicts Ethiopia’s public commitment to freedom of the press. He says it also is in conflict with the country’s constitutional statement that all citizens have the right to freedom of expression “without any interference” and that this right shall include freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds, “regardless of frontiers.”
As for that vicious comparison between VOA and Radio Milles Collines, Duguid said this: “Comparing a respected and professional news service to a group that called for genocide in Rwanda is a baseless and inflammatory accusation…”
I only wish Duguid could have been even stronger in his response.
(The writer is Acting Director of VOA’s Persian News Network)