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ESAN TV Calls on YouTube to Stop Arbitrary Censorship of Ethiopian Channels

Photo: USAID Economic Growth and Resilience Office Director Amber Lily Kenny and State Minister Dr. Meles Mekonin from the Ministry of Agriculture at the Feed the Future Ethiopia Transforming Agriculture and Ethiopian Seed Activity launching event, Hawassa, March 5, 2024.

Washington DC, March 7 — The Ethiopian Satellite Network TV (ESAN TV) expresses deep concern over YouTube’s arbitrary suspension of a prominent Ethiopian channel and community platform with nearly half a million subscribers. ESAN TV notes a troubling pattern of selectively suspending Ethiopian channels critical of the Abiy regime without providing an adequate explanation, citing “community guidelines violations” as a pretext without specifying the violations.

The affected channel, Dere News, which YouTube removed on March 5, is an integral part of the ESAN TV network, recently launched in collaboration with five media outlets to broadcast content to Ethiopia via satellite TV. YouTube has previously suspended Anchor Media, another popular channel within the Ethiopian community and a member of the ESAN TV media collective.

Amsterdam-based exiled Ethiopian journalist Dereje Habtewold, who endured imprisonment for his fearless reporting before being forced into exile after the 2007 elections, has expressed profound concern regarding the arbitrary nature of the suspension. He said: “I have dedicated over two years of my life to building Dere News and a community focused on human rights issues, growing its subscriber base to over 452,000. It was disheartening to wake up and discover that all the hard work and labor of love had been erased without notice of any known policy violations.”

Dereje underscored that Dere News was more than a YouTube channel, as it serves as a platform for thousands of Ethiopians worldwide to engage in daily discussions about current issues, particularly related to rampant human rights violations. “YouTube has thus far failed to explain why it suspended our channel. Silencing the voice of the voiceless should not be YouTube’s undeclared mission,” he added.

Mesay Meknnen, founder of Anchor Media, echoes similar sentiments after facing a similar fate with his channel a few months ago. He said that the perceived political motive behind YouTube’s arbitrary measures is disturbing. Mesay, a naturalized American citizen, highlights that YouTube’s misactions appear contrary to the principles of the First Amendment, aligning with some of the world’s most oppressive regimes. He calls on human rights groups, including CPJ, IFEX, and Reporters Without Borders, to assist in restoring the banned channels. Both Dereje and Mesay are esteemed Ethiopian journalists providing critical updates daily on issues pertaining to human rights, conflicts, corruption, and hunger.

ESAN TV urges YouTube’s management to investigate this matter and guide the company away from complicity in censorship and arbitrary measures that potentially violate the First Amendment and the constitutional principle of due process.

CEO of ESAN TV, Abebe Gellaw, calls on YouTube to not only reinstate the banned channels but also restore its credibility as a global marketplace of free expression. He criticized YouTube for such behaviors not expected of a global platform vocally championing free expression. “While strict adherence to YouTube’s community guidelines is understandable, removing compliant channels is not only scandalous but also tyrannical,” he said. He urges YouTube to prioritize the protection of freedom of speech over yielding to the pressures of tyrannical regimes, whose army of cadres and lobbyists persistently file false reports of violations to silence critical voices like Dere News and Anchor Media.

Ethiopian journalists and broadcasters focusing on human rights violations, including Addis Dimtse, Zehabesha, Mereja TV, Ethio 251, Ethio 360, among others, have previously complained about the arbitrary suspension of their YouTube channels. 

Ethiopia is one of the worst jailors of journalists. Following the recent release of French journalist Antoine Galindo, who was detained in Ethiopia on February 22, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on Ethiopian authorities to unconditionally release all journalists currently in custody. CPJ reports that eight journalists are currently imprisoned, facing charges solely for criticizing the Abiy Ahmed regime and bringing attention to its corruption and widespread human rights violations.

ESAN TV, formed by Anchor Media, EVN, Dere News, Tamagn Media, and Minalash Meti earlier this year, broadcasts daily to Ethiopia via satellite TV on Eutelsat 7 Degrees West, frequency 11449.

For Media Inquiries: Please contact Abebe Gellaw, Phone +1 540 388 9075

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