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Destabilizing and jeopardizing development and democracy in poor nations: BBC’s Editorial Policy PDF Print E-mail
Monday, 29 March 2010 20:19

(BY BALCHA HURESSA) On Sunday the 21st of 2009, I went to National Theater along with my daughters to see a recently introduced theater. We had an ample spare time when we arrived there and decided to stay at Ras Hotel. In the hotel, there were many people. There were also two couples in the center. We took chairs and sat by them. Although there were many people in the hotel, the couples paid little attention to them. They were loudly chatting and laughing.

In the meantime, one of the ladies loudly said, “BBC”. I turned my face to her and read some discontent in her facial expression. Being confused why she called him “BBC”, I let my ears expecting that they might continue their talks. It was really unbelievable that her friend has become nervous for being called “BBC”. His face turned cold and kept quite. The other couples advised both of them to cool down. Despite my curiosity to know the reasons, they went out of the hotel. Having that “BBC” ringing in my mind, I heard another young man saying, “Don’t be BBC?” to the man by him in the theater hall. I have tried my best to interpret it but I couldn’t. 


It was in the next black Monday morning that I heard the same word in my work place. A friend of mine called our colleague “BBC”. That time it was easy for me to ask about that. “What do you mean by “BBC”?” I asked. He laughed at me and asked,”Don’t you know what “BBC” means? “I couldn’t comprehend it in the context you used,” I replied.  “Good BBC in this sense means an imposter or liar”. I was ashamed of my ignorance and failure to relate things with current issues. Many people in Ethiopia have considered the BBC as an irresponsible media for its campaign against the positive image of their country.


It is obvious that many scholars argue that media should play its role meaningfully in supporting development efforts.  According to Jain et al (1999), media should play a leading role in the fight against poverty, unemployment, health, literacy and population explosion.


However, what we have been experiencing is the other side of the coin. Despite the efforts and strives made by developing nations to alleviate poverty and ensure sustainable economic development, the international media have been aggravating conflicts. They neither have played their roles nor respected the media ethics in covering reports. Alexander et al (1999:94) said, “Media ethics concerns the delicate balance between society’s interest and the interest of individuals, groups and institutions such as the press and the government.” 


Of course, this doesn’t mean all media violate media ethics. There are some media contributing their roles in alleviating   poverty. However, a few of them forgot their roles in the society and violate media ethics for one or other reasons.


One typical example could be the British Broadcast Cooperation (BBC). Its editorial values are truth and accuracy, impartiality, editorial integrity, independence, serving the public interest and accountability.


But what is the BBC really doing?  Does it care for the accuracy and balance of its stories? Is it impartial? Does it keep the interests of the public? Of course, the BBC may say “yes”, but as for its audiences are concerned, the other side of the coin might be true. Its editorial values remained only in black and white.


There are webs of fabrications by the BBC concerning Ethiopia.  Recently, as an extension of its campaign against development in Ethiopia, it criticized the status of aid allotment some 25 years back, in which the BBC faced unexpected challenges from the donor community and the celebrated vocalist Bob Geldof. The confrontation hasn’t solved yet. The confrontation was caused due to the recent white lie made by the BBC. But BBC’s legendary stories continued as they aimed at jeopardizing the efforts of the country in ensuring sustainable economic development and enhancing the thriving of democracy.  It swiftly shifted to Gilgel Gibe III hydropower development project.


In the past three month’s time, the BBC reported various fabricated stories. The land policy of the country, the aid distribution status of  some 25  years ago, the Gibe hydroelectric dam, the political space in Ethiopia, the food shortage and others. We, Ethiopians, appreciate the attention given to our country in the giant BBC. But we are annoyed of the reports covered so far as they were reported in a distorted manner.


The festering question is why does the BBC shift from one fabrication to another? Why is it necessary for the giant BBC to move against the interests of poor nations like Ethiopia? The answer might be as plain as the nose on everyone’s face. Destabilize the poor nations and jeopardizing their development efforts, though not in black and white, is the editorial policy of the BBC.


Its recent propaganda focuses on Web campaign against Ethiopia’s Gibe III dam and putting pressure on donors to decline funding the project, which may need 1.4 billion USD. The campaign of the BBC against this huge hydropower development project, according to what most Ethiopians believe, is the extension of its previous destructive reports.


Of course, any media has its own policy. So did the BBC. Its agenda setting is obviously based on its editorial policy. Many analysts argue that despite its unavailability in black and whites, BBC’s editorial policy towards Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular is unhealthy and non ethical.


However, this has remained so vague for centuries. Previously, as there were various problems, Ethiopians had been innocently taking BBC’s reports with their exaggerations. Today, Ethiopia is at a very different position. Its people have been enjoying their human and political rights. They have ample access to international and local media. They also read well the global situations. Equality among nations/nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia has begun to thrive. Although at a smaller scale, the people have been becoming beneficiaries of the developments in their country. The journey towards making all Ethiopians beneficiary of sustainable development is in its right truck.


However, the BBC and other giant media have reported none of these developments. Don’t positive and success stories make human interests? Is it only the negatives, the fabrications, the campaign against democracy and development that make human interest?


It might be too vague to comprehend for someone who considered the BBC as a giant credible media. The reality, however, witnessed not. It is rather a biased, incredible and destructive media in the world.  No time, no single development or affirmative story about Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular has reported by the BBC since time immemorial. It usually sets its agenda on conflicts, diseases, famine and the like with exaggerations at the largest possible extent. 


On one hand, the BBC never reports any of the democracy and development improvements even though they too make news of human interests. On the other hand, it has been making distortions of any single issue it reported. Had the BBC reported the problems rightly as what they are, no one could have complained about it. Besides, it usually uses incredible sources and gives wrong analysis. If we take the aforementioned reports of the BBC about Ethiopia, they were presented in a status others would like to be, not in a status they really looked like. 


The writer of this article has made a mini-survey on the impact of international media on Ethiopian’s development and democratic efforts. In that mini-survey, the international media: VOA, BBC, DW, Xinhua, Reuters and Al-Jazeera and others were taken into consideration. Reports by the media monitored from March 01 – August 30, 2008 were taken and thoroughly evaluated and sorted according to their impacts: negative or affirmative   within the major content divisions: politics, economy and social. Having put the overall   findings of the mini-survey aside, it would be so paramount importance to bring the status of the BBC reporting in to view.


The BBC covered various stories about Ethiopia in the aforementioned time frame. Sixty-nine stories were monitored and thoroughly evaluated.  Of these, the lion share 46 (66.67%) of the stories had devastating consequence.  Out of these negative stories, about 33(71.74%) of them were politics.


Although the BBC put “harm and offence minimization” as one of its editorial values, most of the aforementioned stories were presented with strong tones of maximizing offences that violates its own values. If that is the editorial value of the BBC, what’s special to Ethiopia that all the reports had aggressive and destabilizing tones?


The coverage of unfounded negative stories about Ethiopia by the BBC has been increasing from time to time, reaching its worst peak nowadays at the time when Ethiopia has exerting its full efforts to alleviate poverty and ensure sustainable economic development. 


In a nut shall, the BBC has been jeopardizing the development efforts of the country. It has not only little contribution to support the poverty reduction programs but also striving against its reality. Its role in harm minimization remained insignificant.  Presenting the negative stories, most of them fabricated, in a very high tone aggravates conflict. It failed to promote the thriving of democracy and good governance.  Most of its reports about Ethiopia substantiate this fact. It has become an instrument for groups who have campaigning against development in the country. Destabilizing and jeopardizing development and democracy in poor nations has become part and parcel of the BBC’s Editorial Policy without making a mountain out of molehills.


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