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Wednesday, 11 April 2007

Open letter to Reuters

No more lies and distortion please
By Menbere Nebere
April 10, 2007

-Open letter to Reuters

Dear Sir / Madam:
I am writing in response to the distorted, unethical, impartial and untrue stories being churned out by your correspondent Tsegaye Tadesse from Ethiopia.

I have no doubt that Reuters is the leading international multi-media news provider as stated on your website. Having read the incredible success story of Reuters, which was founded by Paul Julius Reuter in 1851, I have had a great deal of respect for Reuters which has come a long way to achieve global prominence.

As your editorial policy clearly states: “integrity, independence and freedom from bias of Reuters must be upheld at all times." However, a little effort to distort the truth and spin false story is enough to throw the core values of your policy into doubt.

A case in point is a grossly distorted story unwittingly disseminated across the globe by Reuters. Tsegaye Tadesse’s report, “Ethiopia treason trial judge frees 25 journalists” (April 9, 2007) is not only false but also a good example of unethical journalism gone mad.
According to Mr. Tadesse, “An Ethiopian judge freed 25 journalists on Monday charged in a treason trial involving more than 100 opposition figures that has drawn international criticism as being politically motivated.”1
"The prosecution has not proved the charges leveled against the 25 journalists," presiding Judge Adil Ahmed told the court, before ordering prison authorities to free them immediately.”
Though Mr. Tadesse spun the story out of proportion to give the impression that there is a super judge in Ethiopia who is a living proof of independence of the judiciary, he could never have said: “The prosecution has not proved the charges leveled against the 25 journalists.” Let alone a Reuters correspondence, any layman knows the fact that the number of journalists charged with outrage against the constitution, treason and genocide stands at 17. Even if the court decided to release all journalists in jails, but it didn’t, Mr. Tadesse has to borrow eight more journalists from somewhere to bring his story a little credible in terms of number.
I have no doubt that Mr. Tadesse was in court to record court proceedings. However, as more credible reporters of the Voice of America, Deutsche Welle and Associated Press reported what happened on Monday, April 9, 2007, was out of the 17 journalists facing antistate charges only eight were released. The court also released 17 members and supporters of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy Party, after spending over 524 days in jails denied of bail rights even if they insisted all along that they never committed treason and genocide. I find it puzzling why Mr. Tadesse thought that the 17 people just released, who come from different walks of life, were all journalists.
Unfortunately, Mr. Tadesse missed important court proceedings last week as a result of which no news came from him on the high profile political trial. Had he been to court, he would have learnt that leaders of the CUDP and the 77-year old human rights defender, Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, were ordered to defend charges of “outrage against the constitution.” Had he been to court, he would have known that the court did not drop treason and genocide charges last week. However, in the same story that he filed on Monday April 9, 2007, he reported: “The judge dropped the genocide and treason charges last week, saying the prosecution had failed to prove its case.” Alas! The court actually dropped the unfounded charges of treason and genocide only yesterday. Your reporter Mr. Tadesse, who is supposed to feed the word with true stories, seems to be starving himself of accurate information.
According to Mr. Tadesse, “The charges followed two separate outbreaks of violence in which at least 80 people were killed in clashes between protesters and security forces over 2005 general election results, which the opposition says were rigged.” Unfortunately, this is also inaccurate as the proof comes from Mr. Tadesse himself.
In a story headlined: “ Ethiopian probe team criticizes judge over report”2 (November 7, 2006), Tsegaye Tadesse reported that "a team that investigated two bouts of post-election violence in Ethiopia in 2005 criticized the exiled Judge Woldemichael Meshasha for leaking a report that accused security agents of conducting a "massacre"." According to the story, aimed at discrediting Judge Woldemichael who was forced into exile after being pressurized by Prime Minister Meles to change the findings of the commission, the report presented by the commission to parliament said 193 civilians and six policemen were killed in June and November 2005. Mr. Tsegaye must be too forgetful of numbers when he reported yesterday that at least 80 people were killed. What kind of journalistic approximation can bring the death of 193 closer to 80 within less than six moths?
I am aware of the fact that Mr Tadesse has been working as a Reuters correspondent for many years. In spite of that, after the disputed May 2005 elections, his reports have been biased and controversial as he went as far as telling the world that Meles Zenawi, who has never allowed free and fair elections in Ethiopia, won a democratic election. Angered by his distorted stories, a group of Ethiopians even started an online petition to ask Reuters to be aware of the unethical, biased and false stories that Mr. Tadesse is disseminating across the world making Reuters his conduit of distortion and lies.3 As you very well