By Alemayehu G. Mariam
When ESAT was first established in April 2010, I served as the chairperson of its Advisory Committee.
It was the worst of times. – Donate to ESAT: https://gf.me/u/y5a9gm
In 2009, the Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), presently consigned to the trash heap of history, had enacted a “counterterrorism” and an anti-civil society law shutting down the political space in Ethiopia crushing dissent and all opposition political activity.
The TPLF’s press law criminalized journalism. 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.
It was in this season of darkness, trial and tribulation in an outrageous ethnic apartheid system that ESAT was born.
I was present at the birth of ESAT.
It was a most difficult birth.
ESAT came into existence when Ethiopia was under the total eclipse of the TPLF.
At the inception of ESAT, we all believed a free and independent press that serves as the eyes, ears and mouths of Ethiopians was an absolute necessity.
At that defining moment in Ethiopia’s history, a small but diverse group of diaspora Ethiopians deeply committed to the principles of press freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law came together and created ESAT.
ESAT is founded on the simple conviction that a free press is essential to an informed and enlightened citizenry, government transparency and accountability and equitable socio-economic development. We believe a threat to press freedom is a threat to democracy, human rights and the rule of law. We reject the belief that by controlling what people read, hear and think, it is possible to control their hearts and minds.
Among the contributors to the creation of ESAT included exiled Ethiopian journalists, human rights advocates, university professors, lawyers, entertainers, entrepreneurs, civic society leaders and others from a variety of professions, and others committed to fundamental democratic principles.
I know first-hand the excitement and optimism of the exiled journalists, human rights activists and others when ESAT made its first broadcasts.
I know first-hand how hard we worked in the early days to make ESAT an alternative source of balanced news reporting and analysis for all Ethiopians.
I also know how the TPLF spent millions to jam, slam and goddam ESAT from the air.
The TPLF succeeded for a time in knocking off ESAT from the air, but every time ESAT rose like the phoenix from the ashes of TPLF jamming stronger and tougher.
I rise once again now to proclaim my full support for ESAT because ESAT is mine and ours.
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.
When I wrote the ESAT Declaration of Principles for the Advisory Board, I was confident ESAT will be a bulwark of press freedom and a source of critical and well-informed perspective.
My expectations have been fulfilled.
Over its decade of existence, ESAT has faced trial by “isat” (fire). ESAT has come under the withering fire of the TPLF. ESAT rose rose from the ashes like the phoenix stronger and better.
ESAT has also been beset internally.
Over the past year, ESAT had its share of disagreements on the direction of the organization.
I addressed some of those issues in my April 5, 2019 commentary. Indeed, those issues proved to be a tempest in a teapot.
Once the dust settled ESAT did not become bitter. ESAT became better.
ESAT has been criticized by nearly every group for one thing or another and damned for sins of commission and omission. Criticism from all sides to me suggests they are doing the right thing.
I have no problems with criticisms of ESAT. No one is above criticism.
Like any media institution, they have made some mistakes and missteps. What is important is the fact that they are willing to acknowledge their mistakes and take corrective action.
I MOST appreciate ESAT for practicing responsible journalism.
In a time when professional journalism is suffocated by tabloid and yellow journalism driven by the avarice of YouTube click-bait, it is refreshing and exhilarating to see ESAT as a lonely but impregnable outpost of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness, and public accountability.
I admire not only the professionalism of ESAT reporters and commentators but also the fact they show they have a conscience in the way they do their work. They do not sensationalize. They don’t chase after gossip. They research their topics. They ask hard questions. They report the facts.
I appreciate the fact that they are inclusive and respect the diversity of opinion in the public.
Above all, I like the fact ESAT serves as a vigilant watchdog over those who engage in abuse of power and criminality.
ESAT is our baby and we watched grow (with growing pains) over the last 10 years…
I have a few simple questions for ALL diaspora Ethiopians, past supporters of ESAT and all defenders of press freedom in Ethiopia:
Are we going to cowardly abandon ESAT in its hour of need?
Or are we going to make ESAT’s hour of need its finest hour?
Are we going to bring ESAT into adolescence and adulthood?
Or are we going to let ESAT become an abandoned orphan at age 10?
If there is one constant principle in my life, it is that I stand by the cause I champion come hell or high water.
Press freedom is a cause I have always championed; and ESAT to me is the face of press freedom in Ethiopia.
I enjoy and believe in doing the right thing. I stand my ground and never back down from doing the right thing.
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 Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (T-TPLF) tooth and nail and with pen, pencil and computer keyboard ever single week, ESAT fought the T-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 T-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.
Diaspora Ethiopians, would you please join me in financially supporting ESAT in its finest hour!
Please donate here: https://gf.me/u/y5a9gm