Outrageous! Who Owns ESAT Anyway?

Who Owns ESAT Anyway

Al Mariam’s Commentaries

ESAT belongs to us. We own it because it exists with our support. ESAT journalists, commentators, analysts and others who have their own programs have served us well over the years. I support ESAT not because I agree with everything they do. I support them because of their independence, balance and professionalism. Alemayehu G. Mariam, Why I Support Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and You Should Too!”, April 5, 2019.

We built ESAT with our blood, sweat and tears. We built ESAT with our donations, our ideas, our time and collective energies. We own ESAT! When I became ESAT Advisory Board chair in 2010, my dream was to see an institution that is built on journalistic integrity, professionalism and high standards of accountability and transparency… ESAT is our baby and we watched it grow (with growing pains) over the last 10 years… Alemayehu G. Mariam, “Why I Support ESAT Again and Again and Again… and You Should Too!”, October 21, 2020.

Who Owns ESAT Anyway

Who owns ESAT, anyway?

In the February 15, 2021 broadcast of Eletawi ESAT program (Ethiopian Satellite Television), I heard disturbing news that the Ethiopian Satellite Television operating from its headquarters in the U.S. is currently facing a clear and present danger to its organizational independence.

The facts as presented by the Eletawi commentators appear to revolve around two key issues: 1) the failure of the ESAT Board to transfer legal ownership of ESAT from private hands to the public more than two years after the Board announced it would do so in order for ESAT to operate in the public interest, and 2) covert efforts by certain members of the Board operating in concert with others to hijack ESAT and convert it into a partisan media to promote their own agenda.

The Eletawi report did not provide much factual detail but promised to reveal more information in due course. It is clear from the report that the facts provided are merely the tip of the iceberg.

I am outraged by the revelations but take the reported facts under advisement and shall wait for more evidence on what is really going on in the ESAT Board before I make up my mind. I am confident the ESAT Board will make all the facts in the current controversy available to its donors, supporters, volunteers and others in the foreseeable future.

However, I take an uncompromising position on the question of who owns ESAT.

We, ESAT Donors, Contributors, Supporters, Volunteers, Employees and Board Members collectively OWN ESAT.

I was present at the creation of ESAT

I was present at the birth of ESAT.

When Dr. Berhanu Nega asked me to chair the ESAT Advisory Committee, I asked him one question pointedly. “Is ESAT an organ of Ginbot 7 organization?”

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Dr. Berhanu told me without equivocation that it is not. He assured me ESAT is an independent effort organized by exiled journalists, Ethiopian human rights activists and advocates and others interested in establishing an alternative media to shine the bright light of truth on the darkness that had enveloped Ethiopia under the TPLF thugtatorship.

Despite the rumors of Ginbot 7 ownership, I did my due diligence and was satisfied that ESAT was indeed the result of a collective effort of diverse stakeholders.

I made my position clear to Dr. Berhanu.

I will not be part of a media effort created to advance the partisan objectives of any political organization.

I agreed to join the ESAT enterprise because I believe in “liberation journalism”, which means having an independent and robust media that 1) speaks truth to power, 2) exposes the lies, crimes and disinformation of abusers and misusers of power and 3) brings together journalists, activists and others to work together in promoting democracy, human rights and Ethiopian unity and integrity.

When I agreed to chair the ESAT Advisory Committee, I did so for three compelling reasons: 1) I was, and still am, convinced that an independent alternative media was necessary to help liberate the minds and spirits (if not their bodies) of Ethiopians suffering under the TPLF regime. 2) In light of the so-called Antiterrorism Proclamation of the thugtatorship of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) enacted in 2009 and the legal jeopardy created for Ethiopian journalists in the country, a robust and critical voice from the Ethiopian diaspora was necessary. 3) There was full complementarity between my efforts in my weekly Monday Commentaries to fight the thugtatorship of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and what ESAT could be doing daily to fight that ruthless thugtatorship.

At the time of ESAT’s creation, the TPLF’s antiterrorism law and rampant illegal practices had criminalized journalism in Ethiopia. Journalists, reporters, editors and other media professionals were subjected to brutal crackdowns, arbitrary imprisonments and harassments.

Neither Diaspora Ethiopians nor the people of Ethiopia had alternative means of getting information about the TPLF’s abuse of power, corruption and gross human rights violations.

ESAT was born in this season of darkness and trial and tribulation in an outrageous ethnic apartheid system.

ESAT came into existence when Ethiopia was under the total eclipse of the TPLF.

ESAT proved to be a blazing flame that seared the TPLF with the truth every day. Every time the TPLF knocked ESAT transmissions, ESAT came roaring back!

When I wrote the Declaration of Principles of the ESAT Advisory Board in May 2010, it was based on the collective understanding and unanimous consent of Board members:

ESAT has arrived at a critical time in Ethiopian history. Over the past five years, press freedom in Ethiopia has been at its lowest point in history. Journalists, reporters and editors have been victims of government harassment, intimidation and persecution, and independent newspapers have been shuttered…

ESAT is the result of the collective efforts of a small but diverse group of Ethiopians throughout the world who are deeply committed to the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. Among the contributors to this effort include exiled Ethiopian journalists, human rights advocates, university professors, lawyers, entertainers, entrepreneurs, civic society leaders and others from a variety of professions, and individuals committed to fundamental democratic principles…

Over the years, I have done what I could to support ESAT as a donor, sustaining member, fundraiser and superfan.

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Every time ESAT faced a challenge to its mission, I have stepped up to show my support materially and morally.

In my April 5, 2019 commentary, “Why I Support Ethiopian Satellite Television (ESAT) and You Should Too!”, I defended ESAT against malicious controversy manufactured by a disgruntled ESAT employee. That controversy sowed confusion and created a chasm among ESAT donors and supporters. I pleaded with ESAT supporters to carefully verify the evidence and forbear from throwing out the baby with the bath water in an emotional spasm. I made my position clear as I cautioned:

In my view, ESAT today is facing an existential crisis. Many ESAT supporters are questioning whether it is worth their while to support ESAT. That concerns me deeply. I have always believed ESAT is an Ethiopian Diaspora treasure. ESAT is not something we support one day because we like what some individuals say and withdraw our support the next day when we hear something we dislike. ESAT must be supported because it is and has been a vital force in press freedom in Ethiopia…

But I am defending ESAT as a precious Diaspora institution that has been a source of light, enlightenment and hope for all of us for nearly a decade. I am pleading with ESAT supporters and friends not to “punish” ESAT the institution for the faults and wrongdoings of any individual(s) acting in the name of ESAT.

In my April 5, 2019 commentary, I made seven recommendations to improve ESAT’s performance and management.

In October 2020, ESAT donors and supporters were shocked to learn that it had been taken off the air because of financial distress.

I was shocked just like so many other ESAT supporters.

There was no time to waste. I and my friends kicked into high gear trying to drum up donations on GoFundMe, which is still open and accepting donations now at: https://gf.me/u/y5a9gm

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Over 2,300 ESAT donors globally gave nearly $225 thousand and saved the day for ESAT!

I am proud I was able to mobilize friends and supporters to donate thousands to the total amount collected.

In my October 21, 2020 commentary, “Why I Support ESAT Again and Again and Again… and You Should Too!”, I explained and urged my readers and supporters to come to the aid of ESAT.

I concluded that commentary as follows:

I support ESAT because it is the right thing to do. It was the right thing for me to do when ESAT was born in April 2010. It is the right thing to support ESAT today. ESAT was there with me in my hour, or should I say week, of need for years and years.  When I fought the thugtatorship of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front tooth and nail and with pen, pencil and computer keyboard every single week, ESAT fought the TPLF every day on the airwaves. ESAT was front and center in the battle for the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian people during the ethnic apartheid regime of the TPLF. ESAT fought hard to promote and defend democracy, liberty and the rule of law in Ethiopia. I am proud of that! It is my great honor and pleasure today to stand by, to promote and defend ESAT and transform its hour of need into its finest hour.

We, ESAT Donors, Contributors, Supporters, Volunteers, Employees and Board Members collectively OWN ESAT

I take no sides on the controversy on the ESAT Board because I have no first-hand knowledge of the facts.

I am prepared to hear from all sides before making a judgment.

However, I will make my position on who owns ESAT crystal clear.

We, ESAT Donors, Contributors, Supporters, Volunteers, Employees and Board Members collectively OWN ESAT!

Anyone who says otherwise should be prepared for a fight!

Request for a townhall meeting with ESAT Board

I believe I resonate the views and wishes of many ESAT donors, contributors, supporters and volunteers when I request of the ESAT Board to have an electronic town hall so that we can be informed on the full scope of issues and challenges facing ESAT.

In a well-organized and -structured electronic townhall meeting, ESAT stakeholders can have their voices heard and questions answered.

I am confident the ESAT Board will have such a townhall meeting in the foreseeable future.

Let me make it crystal clear.

We, ESAT Donors, Contributors, Supporters, Volunteers and Employees and Board Members are on the same team: TEAM ESAT!



Professor Alemayehu G. Mariam teaches political science at California State University, San Bernardino. His teaching areas include American constitutional law, civil rights law, judicial process, American and California state governments, and African politics.
He has published two volumes on American constitutional law, including American Constitutional Law: Structures and Process (1994) and American Constitutional Law: Civil Liberties and Civil Rights (1998). He is the Senior Editor of the International Journal of Ethiopian Studies, a leading scholarly journal on Ethiopia. For the last several years, Prof. Mariam has written weekly web commentaries on Ethiopian human rights and African issues that are widely read online.



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