Multiculturalism, Languages and Public Media

                                                                                                                                             By Melese Diribsa*

The principal task of public broadcasting includes radio, television and other electronic media outlets is public service. Public broadcasters receive funding from sundry sources including license fees, individual contributions, public financing and commercial financing. Historically, in many countries with the extraordinary exception of the US, public broadcasting was once the only form or the paramount form of broadcasting, notwithstanding the number of countries with only public broadcasting declined substantially since the latter part of the 20th century, whilst public broadcasting is principal yet especially in the developing countries.

Public broadcasting is imperative institution that as dole out different purposes in various societies. In its idyllic form, public broadcasting outfit for the diverse needs of audiences. Public broadcasting is instigated on the principle of access of information. In many burgeoning countries public broadcasting is perceived as indispensable for development and the striving for democracy. Thus, public media is the way to augment the citizen access to information, freedom of expression, the progress of public fizz in which the citizens will slot in freely in participatory communication to empower themselves.

In broadcasting the commencement and intrinsic is about the target audience, that of audience you are looking for to reach including the audience you already have and the audience you should have. In many countries broadcasting media are predominantly public media principally in multicultural, multilingual and diversified society to address the heterogeneous society by means of different languages. As many countries’ experience confirms us public state media utilize the giant languages (those have immense number of speaker) to address the diversified society in the territory and further than. Let us glimpse some countries’ experience as follows then after pass through my country Ethiopia’s practice in facet.

South Africa is one of the interesting cases because it is pursuing a premeditated policy of using public broadcasting to develop and promote its official languages as well as to maximize the target audience. In South Africa there are 11 official languages. South African’s buoyant loom to the use of public broadcasting to prop up and utilize languages in the country is endorsed by two mechanisms: constitutional recognition of 11 official languages and the existence of policy skeleton that mandate the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC which is like state public media) in its charter to reflect all 11 official languages in its programming in an equitable manner. The exposure of 11 official languages in South Africa is based on the principle that they are spoken by a majority of South Africans. The South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) utilizes these languages to address the target audience in the country.

In Canada the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) is the leading public broadcaster. The Broadcasting Act of 1991 consent the CBC to broadcast in English and French. However, the CBC runs a service that delivers native languages programmes to peoples in the far North. Apart from the CBC and other public broadcasters, the Aboriginal People’s Television (APTN) also provides services in Indigenous languages.

Let’s gape out of public broadcasting in to international broadcasting service British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). BBC is the world’s largest international broadcaster, broadcasting news, speech, discussions in 28 languages to many parts of the world. The BBC was reported to have reached more than 188 million people a weak on average. Hence why both international and public broadcasting media are using different languages? Many scholars and media professionals avow that media make use of different main languages either international or inland could maximize audience and take advantage to reach in the society especially in multicultural society including those have different languages.

I hope so you have been acquired a petite know-how about Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) as well as about British Broadcasting Corporation medium re languages. Now traverse in to Ethiopian issue:

In Ethiopia the past regimes had been tried to inflict all nations, nationalities and peoples those have their own language, culture, custom, traditional and history, to accept one language policy. They had been endeavored to assimilate forcefully as well as systematically to make Ethiopia the melting pot of dozen nations, nationalities and peoples with one culture and language. Lucky for the Ethiopian nations, nationalities and peoples; untoward for outrageous past regimes and their team up the nightmare to build one cultural society by means of assimilation has been failed. On 21st August, 1995 the FDRE constitution that extol the nations, nationalities and people’s rights comes in to force. According to FDRE constitution article 8 no.1 all sovereign power resides in the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia. Article 39 of the constitution has also granted the nations, nationalities and peoples of Ethiopia the right to speak, to write and to develop its own language, to express, to develop and to promote its culture and to preserve its history. The constitution article 5 foremost and lastly divulged the multilingualism as all Ethiopian languages shall enjoy equal state recognition as national and official language while Ahmaric shall be the working language of the Federal government, despite individuals misunderstood as that of only Amharic language the national language. Again article 29 number 3 (b) of the FDRE constitution gives the nations, nationalities and peoples to right of access to information of public interest.

With these opportunities in Ethiopia many languages are rejuvenated from the edge of tyrannically oppressed. Many of them are booming and flourishing just unexpectedly. A part from this, despite all nations and nationalities’ languages in Ethiopia are officially recognized as working language, many of them still oral and striving to have their own script.

When we come to media on the local and regional levels the major languages in Ethiopia have access to work in. Many media Organizations in Ethiopia have working in different languages to address their diverse target audience. The access to media has huge opportunity to flourish languages. Besides the utilization of different languages (especially major languages) on media is so far ease to deliver the indispensable information for the multitude population as well as it has immense impact to whip up the populace for development as Ethiopian  media are following the developmental media philosophy.  Different regional public media, local FMs and community radios are broadcasting in diverse languages in deliberation of deliver the crucial information for multicultural society of Ethiopia. From my point of view using various languages are so indispensable to convey information for the people with the language they well know to understand and express about their feeling either about development, democracy, social issues or economic matter and so forth. But what I petrified is most of the regional and local media as well as community radio’s spotlight is almost local issue. There is no propensity to deliver national and international information. This could create the information gap among the people. Even they don’t know what ongoing in other regional states where development is so chain and assisted with exchange of experiences. Vis-à-vis daily updated information yet they are far from the federal government activities too.

You might be asking me that what about the state media role concerning delivering the vital information about the federal government activities and regional issues to the mass population. Yeah the solitary state media in Ethiopia Ethiopian Radio and Television Agency (ERTA) is striving to deliver information and news for the people. But what I worried is ‘how many of Ethiopians well understand the information that only disseminated in Amharic language?’ For instance, how many of rural dwellers in Oromia, Somali, Afar, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples as well as other regions can communicate in Amharic? ERTA gives full emphasize for Amharic language as the key instrument to reach the society, by discarding even the other major languages in the country. Why is the ERTA abandoning even the major languages in the country?

What is the concept of target audience for the ERTA context especially where the media organization following the developmental media philosophy that gives primary attention for the public participatory approach? Look again ERTA has the vision to be the leading media in east Africa. But how can it overcome the competition with other giant media? In my view ERTA should have to be analyzing the following consecutive questions to rectify the sticky situation? Could be effective by using merely Amharic language which is working language for federal government and well familiar with Ahmara region and towns out of the region excluding most rural area of other Ethiopian regions and no trans-boarder for the neighboring countries? Or Besides Amharic language is that better to utilize the other major languages in the territory and trans-boarder languages? For instance take it Somali Language, if the media organization is make use of efficiently the language, it could be deliver its’ coverage up to Indian Ocean’s edge. The same for Tigrigna language, if ERTA utilize it, the possibility to be influential beyond the territory up to read sea is so high. Afar language could be merging the country with Djibouti. These languages have millions of native speakers in their mother land and beyond the Ethiopian territory.  Let’s see the other major language Oromo language, to give you some clue about Oromo Language also known as Afaan Oromoo, is an Afro-Asiatic language. It is the most widely spoken language in the family’s Cushitic branch. Oromo language is spoken as a first language by nearly 40 million Oromo and neighboring peoples in Ethiopia and parts of northern Kenya. About 95 percent of Oromo language speakers live in Ethiopia, mainly in Oromia Region. In Somalia, there are also some speakers of the language. In Kenya, the Ethnologue also lists 322,000 speakers of Oromo languages. Within Ethiopia, Oromo language is the second most widely spoken language. Within Africa, Oromo language is the language with the fourth most native speakers, after Arabic, Swahili and Hausa. Besides first language speakers, a number of members of other ethnicities who are in contact with the Oromos speak it as a second language. So that if you utilize Oromo language, you can merely reach nearly 40 million people at least.

But why state media reluctant to use this opportunities? Why won’t to use efficiently the major languages? Is there something conspiracy or panic behind!!!? I summoned up that one opposition party once upon a time when it disclosed its manifesto to the people said that ‘if it controlled the power, it would be employ Oromo language as the federal government working language besides to Amharic’ as familiar in different Federal countries. So is that afraid of it trying to push Oromo language from the state media? That is why I suspected that if plot behind. Again the other question is if it supposed to everybody in Ethiopia could communicate in Amharic language and pushing Oromo language from state media, why the state media on the television live address on the special occasions  such as opening of Parliament; Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Day and so forth use Oromo language? Is that for political gain in favor of the government or to deliver the crucial information for the native Oromo language speakers? Everybody is whispering but nobody (including those have a principal responsibility to do so) wants to confront directly to rectify this unfairness.

*The author is journalist and a blogger who studied journalism and federal studies.


About advocacy4oromia

The aim of Advocacy for Oromia-A4O is to advocate for the people’s causes to bring about beneficial outcomes in which the people able to resolve to their issues and concerns to control over their lives. Advocacy for Oromia may provide information and advice in order to assist people to take action to resolve their own concerns. It is engaged in promoting and advancing causes of disadvantaged people to ensure that their voice is heard and responded to. The organisation also committed to assist the integration of people with refugee background in the Australian society through the provision of culturally-sensitive services.

Posted on May 14, 2013, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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