Eritrea Media Sustainability Index, 2012
Overall Country Score: 0.23
The rapid advancement in media technology has opened up world media, making it increasingly difficult to conceal what is going on within the borders of a totalitarian state. Eritrea remains one of the few states in the world to successfully isolate its people from global information exchange. Under the slogan “Serving the Truth,” Eritrean media are managed entirely by the Ministry of Information. The ministry simply manufactures and disseminates government propaganda, stifling alternative views while protecting the country’s leadership.
Since it began consolidating power, the Eritrean government has invoked the phrase “We chose silence” whenever confronted with political criticism. The phrase prefaced a systematic and blatant effort to mute free speech across Eritrean society in subsequent years, to the point where independent media have not existed for 12 years. Plain-clothes security personnel prowling society have added to the atmosphere of fear and mistrust among the population, according to a panelist who fled Eritrea in recent months.
The impact of the long silence by the government and dissenters cannot be underestimated. When the two-year border war with Ethiopia ended in 2000 the country settled into self-imposed isolation, ostensibly intended to strengthen sovereignty and national security while investing in infrastructure for the future. Arguably, Eritrea has seen little of either.
Through it all, Eritrea’s state media have maintained a posture of defiance, raising national security concerns while painting glossy narratives about internal developments. They omit discussion of the deaths and disappearance of over a dozen journalists in the past decade, the imprisonment of others under harsh conditions, the flight of tens of thousands of young individuals for economic reasons, human rights violations, support for militias in nearby Somalia, and rampant human trafficking.
In late November 2012, unconfirmed reports began circulating that Ali Abdu, minister of information, had defected and fled the country. He had controlled all Eritrean media for the last 12 years and his former charges remained mum about the rumors. This event in itself depicts the essence of Eritrean media and a recurring pattern—silence on matters of significance, particularly those uncomfortable for the state. The MSI for Eritrea attempts to assess the extent of this silence. The government has imprisoned with impunity journalists that dare speak out against the regime, thus the Eritrean media are best characterized by what they do not say.
Many panelists from Eritrea expressed reluctance to discuss the media—not just for security reasons, but out of exasperation with one of the least sustainable media systems in the world.
All MSI participants are Eritreans living in exile. The MSI panelists participated remotely by completing the MSI questionnaire and being interviewed by the IREX moderator, also an Eritrean in exile. Given the geographic dispersion of the panelists, an interactive discussion was not held. While not all panelists asked to remain anonymous, because of the political situation in Eritrea, IREX decided not to publish their names.
For full Report, press here: 2012