Clampdown in Addis: Appendix I

Distribution of Print Media


Sales of private publications are concentrated in the capital, Addis Ababa. There is no organized distribution system in place. Newspapers and magazines are primarily sold on the streets by children who earn a subsistence living for their work, and, to a lesser extent, by independent contractors and newsstands. The majority of the publications offered for sale cost 1.50 birr (US$.25) per copy.

The street vendors pick up their newspapers and magazines in the morning, either at the printer or at a publication’s editorial offices. According to one publisher, these young vendors “maintain strict control on the distribution business, and they can also influence the editorial content of the publications they sell. Sometimes they will tell you to put a photo of Mengistu on the cover, because the newspaper sells faster. And they will threaten to stop selling your publication if you do not comply.”

Street vendors can cut a publisher’s profits by arbitrarily lowering the cover price by as much as 30 percent. Occasionally, turf fights erupt among vendors. One U.S. Embassy official based in Addis Ababa expressed suspicions to CPJ that the fights may be provoked by the government to drive some private newspapers out of business. Private publishers charged that police regularly detain groups of young street vendors as a means of reducing their sales, although CPJ was unable to confirm these allegations. One publisher claimed that after one group of vendors was detained, his sales fell 25 percent when the usual 25 to 40 vendors did not show up to pick up his publication. Previously, the government has said that it also has targeted vendors of state publications in its effort to wipe out illegal vending of any kind.

There is almost no distribution of private publications outside of Addis Ababa. When asked about this, government officials claimed that the private press has been granted equal access to regional distribution markets. But members of the independent press complain that their publications are effectively banned in the provinces, because of harassment of their vendors and confiscation of their newspapers by police. In April 1996, for instance, police detained Bekele Dissassa, a distributor of independent publications in the town of Nekemte, the capital of the west central province of Welega. Bekele was released without charge in June.

To restrict their profit losses and create an alternative distribution network, a number of private publishers have already taken steps toward getting their own kiosks. But the establishment of a privately owned nationwide distribution system appears unlikely in the near future