The Unsettling Ethiopian Media Sector Grabbing Its Latest Victims

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A quick Google search of JTV Ethiopia yields a search result on the first page stating that JTV Ethiopia was an Ethiopian satellite television channel.

The Wikipedia page of the Ethiopian Entertainment Channel was updated recently, and it does not leave room for speculations by fans who don’t know why their favorite channel has been off the air. Indeed, the channel that’s owned by artist Yosef Gebre, aka Jossy, has been shut down since May 4, 2020.

However, this was not the fate she had in mind when Bethlehem Mehari, a fresh Journalism graduate, joined the station as a reporter around a year ago.

Bethlehem got her bachelor’s from the University of Gonder in 2018. Being a reporter at JTV was her first job. She was enthusiastic about her profession, and work at the channel matched her expectations.

“I was hired as a reporter but also worked in the entertainment department too,” said Bethlehem, “employees were encouraged to diversify and work in other departments at the station.”

Bethlehem says she was learning a lot and was growing her career as the station’s environment was very welcoming, expressing her admiration to her boss Jossy.

Though Jossy is a singer turned TV personality, his experience with the media industry surpasses his music career, and early on, he was contributing various pieces to different newspapers.

Jossy fully pledged his music career full time in the mid-2000s after releasing his first hit single “Enja Yene” and later debuting his first album, “Josy” in 2006. Following the album, Josy became a housed hold name with his tracks and music videos frequenting TV channels and radio stations.

Later on, based on his popularity Josy became a TV show host on EBS TV with his show titled Josy in Z House. The show brought different guests from various areas to the spotlight. However, though it had its critics, his segments on shining light on forgotten Ethiopian artists and their families themed with philanthropy work became his brand.

In 2014, the show after an alleged dispute with EBS TV in 2014 was taken off the air. After two years, Yosef started his channel, which later became JTV Ethiopia taking his popular segment with him and adding several programs. Bethlehem joined the station after three years of its establishment.

Bethlehem says while there were small rumors of financial problems, she says nothing was concrete, and the channel paid her salary always on time during her employment period.

A new law that aims at protecting public health has banned the advertisement of alcohol products on broadcast media since the end of May 2019.

The ban on alcohol commercials brought a significant decrease in revenue as beer companies in Ethiopia spent about half a billion Br combined on advertisements annually.

Some coped up with ban others struggled, and few were in hot water.

However, things took a turn out of a sudden. After working till Friday on the last week of February, Bethlehem headed to the office located on Ras Biru Street on the next Monday morning. However, the gates of the building were closed, and the company employees were not allowed to get in.

The employees were notified that the company was no longer in business. A meeting was then scheduled for Thursday, May 7, 2020. The meeting was attended by the employees of the company, the management, the owner Jossy as well as a lawyer representing the company.

The employees were told that the company could no longer afford to pay their salaries as the revenue from advertisement had fallen because of the Novel Coronavirus. Subsequently, the employees were given their salary for February. In addition, two months of salary as compensation for their layoffs.

What has unfolded at JTV is not a particular story but rather a phenomenon shared by the whole media industry. The chain effect caused by the virus that has left many businesses dry has thrown its last punches at media organizations and their employees.

Because of the way media companies operate, the cause behind their income downfall doesn’t inspire much deciphering. Revenues from advertisements declined as business activities in the country slowed down due to the virus’s impact.

“Ethiopian media companies are market-oriented, and advertisement is the sole revenue of media companies,” said Fikdau Alemu, founder of the Ethiopian National Media Support (ENMS), an organization established to nurture independent and vibrant media sector in Ethiopia.

According to industry estimates, since the start of the crisis, the print industry has lost just about 6o percent of its advertisement revenue.

Meanwhile, the loss in broadcast media seems to be much more pronounced, with an estimated 90 percent decline in advertisement spots.

According to local media, Addis Maleda, around 13 broadcast companies have sustained close to 152 million birr loss in advertisement revenue over a month and a half since the first case of the COVID-19 was announced in the country.

The Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation has requested a 191-million-Br cash injection from the government to pay employees and satellite fees.

The Association of Ethiopian Broadcasters that has 13 television channels and one radio station as its members, has a written a letter to the Prime Minister’s Office on April 27, 2020, requesting financial assistance for private television broadcasters in the country.

Addressing the House of Representatives, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.), on June 9, 2020, stated that as a result of economic challenges induced by the pandemic, the country would witness a six percent economic growth in the current Ethiopian year.

Countries around the world have been grappling due to the economic impact of the virus. Governments were forced to inject billions of dollars into their economies to sustain business organizations’ lifeline.

Some of these countries have included media companies in their support and have received funds. For example, in South Africa, the Media Development and Diversity Agency (MDDA), an institution responsible for developing the media sector in South Africa, launched an Emergency Relief Fund to alleviate some of the COVID-19 related hardships faced by the media sector. Three hundred broadcasters and publications across the country were beneficiaries of the fund.

The Ethiopian government, much like the other states, is also putting money in the economy. Supplementary to its 386.9 billion birr annual budget, on two separate occasions, the government approved a total of another 76 billion birr to meet unforeseen public expenditure and compensate for a decline in revenue as a result of COVID-19.

However, the media sector seems forgotten in these supports, and media companies are saying that they are in severe need of this money to be extended to them.

Fikdau also believes that the government needs to revive its media outlets with financial life support. He argues that a media resilience fund should be established in Ethiopia and be disbursed to the different institutions in Ethiopia.

“We can’t leave the situation at its current state,” said Fikadu, “in addition to intervention, both the state and the media companies should learn from it.”

He argues that besides allocating permanent emergency funds, media companies should also diversify their means of revenue.

His NGO is working on with other stakeholders in the industry to come up with solutions to prevent similar situations from happening in the future.

An ad hoc volunteer group called Ethiopian Civic Information Consortium has also been established with a goal of working on recommendations to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the media.

Bethlehem, the young reporter from JTV, did not find another job yet. She says she is waiting it out and is not actively looking for a job until the pandemic is over. But she hopes that time comes soon and the profession she loves bounces back on its feet soon.

 

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