By Dawit Ashenafi
Scores of Ethiopian-American protesters rallied Monday in front of the State Department demanding the U.S. to stand with the oppressed people of Ethiopia. The protesters also urged Voice of America (VOA) management to take serious actions against VOA Amharic reporters deliberately distorting facts and misinforming listeners.
“VOA stop distorting the truth; VOA remove the corrupt reporters,” they chanted. The protesters vented out their anger toward discredited VOA Amharic reporter Henok Semaegzer Fente, who has been repeatedly accused of deliberate acts of distortions and misreporting.
Kebadu Belachew, one of the organizers of the rally, said that VOA should fire or remove Fente and Peter Heinlein, the Horn of Africa Chief. “We are not saying that VOA should give us favorable coverage.Far from it, we are demanding VOA to remain neutral on sensitive political issues. The management should stop the two from harming not only the truth but also the credibility of VOA, which is expected to be reliable and accurate as much as possible,” he said.
Belachew noted that Fente’s August 12 deliberate misreporting on Azusa Pacific University’s decision to revoke the honor it had already bestowed on PM Hailemariam Desalegn should be the last straw, as people are tired of listening to his fabrications, spins and lies.
He pointed out that once journalists are caught in a deliberate act of fabrications and creating nonexistent facts, their job is untenable. Belachew says that Henok S. Fente is clearly biased and irresponsible. “It is now a well-known fact that, he repeatedly and deliberately distorts and misreports facts. VOA needs to fire him as he is a big liability to VOA and its listeners. ”
He also accused Heinlein of being very biased towards Diaspora activists. “I had once requested him to assign a reporter to cover Semawi Party’s meeting in Washington D.C. He refused to do so saying he had no reporters for the day. When I told him that a couple of VOA’s experienced broadcasters were willing to cover the meeting, he said he did not want to use them as they were too old.”
“If this is not biase, what else can it be?” he wondered.
Mesfin Debi, another D.C. based activist and community organizer, said that the campaign to make VOA accountable to its listeners and taxpayers will continue until corrective actions are taken. He said if VOA Amharic, whose listeners rating is steadily declining, wants to remain relevant, it must take actions against those who violate its own Charter.
“VOA must investigate the recent cases of distortions and take action against Fente and Heinlein. Trying to discredit others without having the facts is totally unacceptable,” he said. Fente and Heinlein collaborated on the controversial August 12 story on the Azusa-Hailemariam affair. Despite the fact that Fente quoted the university’s spokesperson, Rachel White, without presenting her voice she has so far declined to confirm the quotes attributed to her.
Heinlein is also facing internal complaints by his own colleagues who allege that he is unprofessional and oppressive. The former Ministre D’etat of Government Communications Affairs, Ermias Legese, recently said on ESAT radio that Heinlein once advised the Ethiopian government to take tough actions against his VOA Amharic colleagues based in the Washington D.C. headquarters.
In a letter the protesters addressed to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, they called on the U.S. government to stand with the oppressed people of Ethiopia instead of propping up corrupt tyrants.
“It is time for the USA and other donor countries to stand with the Ethiopian people and say “No democracy and no respect for human rights; and no aid.” This is the single most important contribution the USA and other Western democracies can make to end poverty in Ethiopia,” the letter stated.