May 29 , 2021

The Ethiopian Media Authority has drafted a new directive to govern the previously unregulated and growing online media outlet market. Any individual or licensed business using the internet to disseminate the information in the form of programmes, news, or digital print must now be registered with the Authority and will be subject to the guidelines in the directive. Anyone using an online media platform for commercial purposes is also expected to register.

The move is in line with the media proclamation passed in parliament two months ago, which decreed that online media outlets must register with the Authority in much the same way as traditional print and broadcast outlets.

An online media outlet is able to get a business license only if it is registered by the Authority. The outlets eligible for registration are those under the proprietorship of Ethiopian citizens or domestically registered businesses with a maximum of 25pc foreign ownership.

The directive grants legal status to outlets that manage to fulfil the requirements set forth by the Authority, which hopes the legal framework will play a big role in improving press freedom laws, access to information, and provision of new financial opportunities to digital media outlets.

The requirements include adhering to laws against hate speech, curating content to make it appropriate for viewers, and protecting users' data. The new media outlets are expected to keep their publications in their archive for six months.

They are also required to submit the short biography of their owner as well as the name and address of their Editor-in-Chief and General Manager, a stipulation which their representatives opposed during a discussion held two months ago at Sapphire Addis, situated along Namibia Street in Bole District.

Fanatahun Asres, mass media licensing and registration officer at the Authority downplayed the concern.

"Knowing their whereabouts is crucial since the public has the right to know and contact them whenever they think it necessary. Doing so is also crucial to hold them accountable for their actions," said Fantahun. "This has been common practice in the media industry for long, not something introduced to regulate the online media outlets."

A call for registration was advertised by the Authority two weeks ago even though the new draft directive is yet to be approved. Capitalising on the opportunity, DireTube became the first to get the license out of 28 online media outlets that showed interest. During the process, digital media outlets are expected to submit their internet provider, social media address, and a copy of an agreement with the social media providing company, if they have one.

"If any online media has a similar name with an already registered entity or is missing even one of the requirements, they can't register," said Fantahun. So far, 17 online media outlets have been registered.

"This will allow us to attract local advertisers, which is something that was unthinkable before, and also its the first official license available to online media outlets," said Firew Abebe, director of DireTube, one of the most prominent online media outlets operating in the country.

Owned and managed by Hobinet Media Plc, which was founded in 2008 as a media production company, DireTube currently has over three million followers on Facebook. Approximately 31pc of Ethiopian social media users, which are estimated to number around five million out of over 24 million internet users, are active on Facebook while less than 10pc use YouTube.

Bante Abera, owner and founder of Andafta, which was founded in 2017 as a media production entity and now has over 408,000 followers on Facebook, says the directive falls short of understanding technological constraints. "It has failed to understand how digital media works. For instance, it has totally ignored that social media outlets have their own censorship rules. Some of the rules that are stated under the directive are already being regulated by the social media outlets that we use, including Google, YouTube, and Facebook."

Anyone violating any of the laws stated under the new directive will be fined 200,000 Br and might even be suspended depending on the degree of the violation. Even though some expressed their concern on the enforcement of the new directive, citing the complexity of digital media due to its dynamic nature, Solomon Goshu, a legal expert specialising in media law, says the Authority can regulate based on complaints it receives.

"Even though it's hard to regulate each activity of the online media outlets, the Authority, by establishing a separate directorate, can at least solve complaints in the digital media sector," he said.

The directive allows the Authority to take administrative measures if any complaints brought against any online media outlets are valid. If neither party is satisfied, they have the right to take the issue to court 30 days after the Authority notifies the administrative measures.

PUBLISHED ON May 29,2021 [ VOL 22 , NO 1100]

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 4.5 / 5. Vote count: 2

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

N.B: A submit button will appear once you fill out all the required fields.

Editors' Pick