The Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC), the lone national broadcaster, is to celebrate its 50th anniversary with series of events planned for November 2015. The Corporation has hired Serawit Multimedia Production Plc for 10 million Br to organise and coordinate a two-week programme, according to people familiar with the anniversary.
Serawit Multimedia is largely owned by Serawit Fikre, actor and filmmaker, who also runs a successful advertising business. His company was one of five invited by the Corporation for a closed bid.
Initially, the Corporation had plans to celebrate the anniversary in July, 2015. It then invited Serawit Multimedia, Samson Advertising Plc, Rohbot Promotion Plc, Shewaferahu Advertising (run by Shewaferaw Dessalegn, a performer) and a fifth bidder, Shemeles Bekele, a promoter once employed by the national broadcaster. Managers of the Corporation had submitted the names of bidders invited to the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development (MoFED) for an approval. But only two of the bidders, Serawit Multimedia and Samson Advertising, had submitted their technical and financial proposals to the Corporation, while Rohbot Advertising opted out on its own.
“The deadline was too short to submit proposals,” Hailu Kebede, managing director of Rohbot, told Fortune. “We realised that the event was too big for us to handle. I believe it is too large for any of the bidders to handle.”
The anniversary programme will have seven packages, where 1,500 people and another 850 high profile individuals are to be invited to attend two events, people knowledgeable of the event told Fortune. The selected company will organise an opening event, ushering, stage preparations for different purposes, catering, panel discussions, award ceremonies, as well as handling media relations to mark the journey the national broadcaster has taken over half a century.
EBC started broadcasting in 1964, with the assistance of the British firm, Thomson, after the then Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was headquartered in Addis Abeba. Known as ETV for several decades, the Corporation dropped its old name, Ethiopian Radio & Television Agency (ERTA), when it was reestablished in 2014.
It has passed through several landmarks over five decades, including the start of transmission in full colour in the mid 1980s, to celebrate the formation of the now defunct Workers Party of Ethiopia (WFP). With the change of government in the early 1990s, the national broadcaster was reestablished as an independent public broadcaster, although the content of its broadcasting remains a source of dissatisfaction for many.
The quality and diversity of its contents are still at an infant stage, says Abdisa Zeray (PhD), head of the School of Journalism & Communication of the Addis Abeba University and member of the board at EBC. The Board is headed by Redwan Hussein, head of the Government Communication Affairs Office (GCAO), with a ministerial portfolio.
Selome Tadesse, once general manager of ERTA for four years, recalls the period where the broadcaster’s contents appealed to the public following the introductionof a series of in-house and outsourced programmes. For instance, an investigative programme dubbed Eyenachin, focused on exposing official misdeeds and a talk show outsourced to the late Haimanot Alemu, a celebrated stage performer, were some of the most popular shows which earned the national television a place in the eyes of the public.
“I feel sad,” Selome told Fortune, of her observation of how the national broadcaster is currently operating. She sees a comeback of a mindset which considers the Corporation’s role and its media outlets as an extension of a public relations tool to the government. There is a redundancy between what the EBC does and the Government Communications Affairs Office, according to Selome.
EBC’s Director, Berhane K. Mariam, was not available for comment last week.
People close to the anniversary, however, hope to see the panel address public dissatisfaction over the quality and content of its shows. However, eyebrows have been raised over the budget the Corporation plans to allocate and the process in which the bidder was selected. The country’s public procurement laws require a publicly owned company to administer closed bids only if suppliers are limited, while it limits the spending to 400,000 Br for services and two million Birr for goods. Should the value of the contract exceed seven million Birr, the state enterprise is required by law to open an international bid.
The Corporation is now renegotiating to cut both the size of the events and the cost, according to Enatlem Melese, head of the event’s organising committee. Serawit did not answer his phone and did not respond to text messages sent to him from Fortune seeking to determine his company’s position on EBC’s move to scale back from its original plans.