Unless it can solve all of its troubles by Monday, it’s the end of the road for one of Ethiopia’s private television channels: Ethiopian News Network (ENN). The executives of the TV station have spoken to all of its 115 employees at a hastily arranged gathering on Friday and used it as an opportunity to explain the troubles of the company.
Founded by an Ethiopian-Canadian journalist, Benyam Kebede (Ben) – formerly based in Montreal—who founded the company in 2016 inside his residential compound was said to have been disheartened by what had transpired around his company in recent times.
Along with his deputy, Samuel Gizaw, he told his emotional employees that, unless something drastic happens on the weekend, ENN will be history. He told the gathering; he had done all he can, including making an attempt to transfer the company to a new owner for minimal payment, but that has not been successful. He was also said to make an attempt to reach out to influential actors within the government, but that was also not successful.
As a last ditch effort, he had travelled to Dubai to speak to the executives of the Satellite company Eutelsat, which had given him an abrupt warning to end their relationship for reasons not clear to Benyam, whose claimed personal friendship with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) has not yielded any favors as his onetime minister friend has transitioned to the Premiership.
Sources told The Reporter that, Benyam had gone as far as to get the full English translation of all of the programs on ENN to show the quality of the programing to Nilesat. However, there was little interest from the company.
The TV channel was also said to be troubled by sponsors distancing themselves from the media organization, including the Ethiopian Commercial Bank, Ethio-telecom and the Ethiopian Insurance Corporation, which were said to have pulled out of their long-term contracts with ENN. These were followed by private institutions which were following the suit, forcing ENN to run programs with no commercials for months.
It was also said to be excluded from government press conferences and communications, notably from Foreign Affairs briefings denying it the right to broadcast the happenings of the government, according to the same sources. The administrations of Oromia and Addis Ababa were particularly unfriendly to the station, according to sources within ENN.
The company also lost some credibility when it mixed-up photos of incidents from abroad with that of Ethiopia most particularly the riots in the Oromia region. Many critics blamed it for exaggerating local happenings, in times of distress to win favors from its dwindling viewers.
However, it was taken aback of what it felt was a directed attack by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), when he singled out the company for its “inaccurate reporting” a month ago. The last nail-in-the-coffin was when it was called by the Ethiopian Broadcasting Agency for the company’s failure to broadcast the speech of the Prime Minister as thousands gathered at Meskel Square.
Some within the company said, the reason for not covering the event was of safety reasons for the employees, which felt they were in danger of being attacked. Benyam was a known young journalist in Canada and owner of the much utilized website – Ethiopia First – and went on to become one of the media figures in Ethiopian. His return to Ethiopia and his eventual ownership of an expensive television station as well as his close affiliation with some of the actors of the government has been a point of discussion among the social media crowed.
Benyam made his debut appearance in Ethiopian media landscape after securing a rare access to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and conducting an exclusive interview which was televised on the national broadcaster Ethiopian Television.
The Canadian citizen returned to Ethiopia in 2007, contracted to work on a documentary of Sheikh Mohamed al Amoudi. He decided to return to the country, shortly after the contract ended.
The Reporter reached out to Benyam, but despite many attempts, there was no reply to our enquiries.