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EPRDF takes lion share of advertising space in public media

 

The National Election Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) has released schedule of how the different political parties contesting the May 21 elections will share public broadcast air time and advertising space for newspapers. Evidently, most of the airtime and space is being taken up by the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).

According to the distribution announced by NEBE, forty percent of the media coverage is assigned according to the number of seats political parties have in Parliament and Regional Councils. Forty percent is given to the parties which have candidates in the election. Ten percent goes to parties who have female candidates while the other ten percent is shared by all political parties equally. Candidates and parties contesting at the federal level will share slots of the national media and the regional contestants will share their respective region's media.

During 2010 elections, out of the allocated broadcast air time and newspapers spaces, 55 percent was given to the parties that have representation in parliament and regional councils, 20 percent for all candidates and 25 percent was shared to all political parties. It seems the allocations this year have considered a new category of women representation, though the distribution criterion is still not fair especially to the opposition parties.

During any election, the public media provides an invaluable channel of information between the contestants and the public. By providing an arena for public debate and informing citizens of the policies and platforms of candidates and parties, the media enable voters to make an informed decision when they cast their ballots. The importance of this last point cannot be overstated, as the ability of voters to make an informed choice is one of the key aspects of a democratic election.That is why giving equal access to the use of public media by any political party contesting the election is of paramount importance.

The Ethiopian media share seems estrange. Why?

When we look at the statistics itself, it shows how the calculation for airtime and newspaper space is biased. The ruling EPRDF in has majority seats in the House of Representatives and in the Regional Council. This means the EPRDF will enjoy all the forty percent allocated air time and the newspaper spaces, both in the federal and regional level.

In the forty percent share that is allocated to the number of candidates in the election, chances are high for the ruling party to take most of the percentage allocated since the opposition parties do not have enough funds and capacity to nominate candidates in each polling station.

The mass media is the most common source of information about election campaigns in democracies and societies in transition around the world. In addition to reporting on the performance of incumbents, providing a platform for debates among candidates, allowing candidates to communicate their message to the electorate, and reporting on campaign developments, the media should inform voters on how to exercise their rights, monitor the electoral process, including election-day proceedings, and report the results to the public.

These objectives will only be achieved when all the political parties are given equal chances to communicate their messages to the voters.

In a country like Ethiopia, where there are no many media outlets and Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) which is the state media, is the only way to communicate large number of voters, it would be better if all the political parties are given equal chances to disseminate their messages.

Otherwise, it will be difficult to say the voters have been given enough information about the agendas of the parties as well as the candidates. Again, it will be difficult to say voters have the confidence in the government they are going to see after the election.