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US Criticizes Ethiopia for Jamming VOA Signals

The U.S. State Department has strongly criticized efforts by Ethiopia's prime minister to jam VOA broadcasts in Amharic, the country's main official language.

State Department Spokesman Gordon Duguid said in a release Friday that the decision by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi contradicts his country's commitments to a free press, even if he disagrees with the broadcasts.

The prime minister said Thursday he would authorize blocking the broadcasts, saying VOA's Amharic service practiced a disregard for the ethics of journalism.

Duguid condemned Mr. Meles' comparison of VOA material to the hate media that incited the 1994 Rwandan genocide, including Radio Mille Collines.

The State Department spokesman also called the accusation baseless and inflammatory, and asked the Ethiopian government to protect the fundamental right of freedom and expression.

VOA listeners of Amharic language programming have been hearing interference to the programs since February 22. Mr. Meles says listeners may have been experiencing the testing of jamming equipment.

Voice of America Director Danforth Austin issued a statement Thursday saying, "any comparison of VOA programming to the genocidal broadcasts of Rwanda's Radio Mille Collines is incorrect and unfortunate."

He added, "the VOA deplores jamming as a form of media censorship wherever it may occur."

His statement also said VOA's Amharic Service is required by law to provide accurate, objective and comprehensive news and abide by the highest journalistic standards.

Austin noted that "while VOA is always ready to address responsible complaints about programming, the government of Ethiopia has not initiated any official communication in more than two years."

VOA language service broadcasts to Ethiopia have been jammed in the past around election times. The next election for parliament is just over two months away. But in past cases, the government denied being responsible for the jamming.

Monitors say the recent jamming has only been aimed at Amharic broadcasts, and has not affected VOA's Afan Oromo and Tigrinya language service programs to Ethiopia.

The Voice of America is a multi-media international broadcasting service funded by the U.S. Government. VOA broadcasts more than 1,500 hours of news and other programming every week in 45 languages to an audience of more than 125 million people.