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Shaping minds through content

I have been thinking a lot about the different entertainment programs that we have on television these days. First of all, let us admit that watching television is not the same experience in Ethiopia today as it was when I was growing up. To start off, there was only 1 channel and it did not start until 5 PM. This is a long way from where we are today with Arabsat and many Ethiopian channels.

There were two major things I looked forward to when it came to television, “ሕብረት ትርዒት” which was the half an hour long music show. I remember that they would only play 1 non-Ethiopian song that would either be Whitney Houston, Celine Dion, Michael Jackson and European groups. The other show I woke up Saturday morning to watch was “የልጆች ጊዜ”, a show that has really had an impact and whose most prized storyteller passed away last week.  As I got older “ታላቅ ፊልም””, which pretty much was Saturday movie night, where an old Hollywood movie is screened was the best thing about staying up on the weekend.

Television is not the only thing that got a makeover, radio is also something that has gone through a revolutionary change. Just as for television, there were no private radios and every morning I remember waking up to the quintessential coffee song praising coffee’s importance to the Ethiopian economy as I got ready to go to school in the morning.

With the television and radio industry having been opened up to private investors, it is really interesting to see the different types of programs and audience they are looking to attract. When it comes to radio, there is a lot of sports talk, especially premier league. Then there are a few shows that play a lot of songs. Some of the programs allow for the audience to call in, give their opinion, request songs.

I will honestly say that there are not too many shows on the radio that enjoy listening to, in fact, listening to some of the shows really frustrates me, especially the English radio stations and a few of the Amharic ones. The variety of the shows is very limited. When it comes to discussions on social issues, there are many ill-informed, sexist views and discussion points raised. It sometimes feels as though the major, if not the only, hiring requirements is speaking English and nothing more, which does not guarantee the quality of the shows.

Television on the other hand has been a lot more varied. There are family friendly game shows, true story re-enactments, talk shows, competitive shows and soap operas. I enjoy quite a few of them but I cannot help to see how a majority of the shows are a low budget replica of TV shows in North America or Europe. Which makes me wonder, are these stations there for entertainment only or will there be shows that are geared towards educating, create awareness and expose our communities to different views.

Content creation is vital. Having control over what information can be transferred to people of all ages is not a task to be taken lightly. However, I truly believe that there is a lack of originality and “laziness” to creating content and designing specific programs that are fully fit and designed for the Ethiopian audience. These stations have the great opportunity of programming the minds of the next generation, honestly addressing some of the issues that the country is currently facing, in one form or another. This is not to say that it is not happening, but it is to say that it is nowhere near enough!