Voice of America news broadcasts jammed in Ethiopia

New York, March 4, 2010Voice of America (VOAreported today that its transmissions to Ethiopia are being electronically jammed. The Ethiopian government denied responsibility.

VOA cited “international shortwave radio monitors” and complaints from listeners in Ethiopia since February 22 about static on the U.S. government-funded station’s daily, hour-long shortwave broadcast from Washington in Amharic—the country’s main official language. CPJ independently collected widespread local accounts of interference exclusively on the Amharic service. VOA’s half-hour broadcasts in the other two local languages, Afan Oromo and Tigrigna, were broadcasting normally, the sources said. David Borgida, a VOA spokesman told Bloomberg News the station had not identified the source of the interference.

“The Ethiopian government has long had a hostile relationship with VOA and that is why we view their denial of responsibility with some skepticism,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes. “We note that the Ethiopian government has neither offered to investigate nor fix the problem.”

In media interviews today, government spokesman Shimelis Kemal denied any government involvement. “This is absolutely a sham,” he told CPJ, adding that “the Ethiopian government does not support the policy of restricting foreign broadcasting services in the country. Such practices are prohibited in our constitution.” 

Kemal was the government prosecutor who charged 21 journalists, including five Washington-based VOA journalists, with anti-state crimes over their coverage of the aftermath of disputed elections in May 2005. Under his leadership, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, the governmental authority responsible for issuing print and broadcast licenses, in 2009 ordered private station Radio Sheger to drop VOA newscasts and briefly revoked the accreditations of two VOA stringers, according to CPJ research.

Kemal told CPJ the allegations were part of a “smear campaign” by “opposition Web sites in the diaspora” ahead of general elections in May.

VOA is one of a handful of foreign-based independent stations, including Deutsche Welle, Washington-based Addis Dimts Radio, and Ginbot 7 Dimts Radio, that have reported ongoing or recurring interference of their broadcasts, according to CPJ research. Also in 2009, Meleskachew Amaha, a VOA stringer, was thrown into prison for three weeks on false tax charges that were later dismissed.