Tefera Gedamu is a major personality in the Ethiopian media scene. His weekly English-language interview panel show, Meet ETV (now changed into Meet EBC) has been running on Ethiopian Television since 1997, giving him an enduring and solid reputation among the diplomatic community and Ethiopia’s highbrow audience of businesspeople and scholars. Though unknown to many people, Tefera also used to do profiles of many personalities in the defunct English language newspaper, Addis Tribune under the pseudonym, Surafel G.
Tefera’s show on the state-owned Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC) continues, with round table and simple black backdrop, primarily one-on-one, hosting local and international figures on cross-cutting themes, with wide variety of issues. Every Thursday night on EBC 3 starting from 8:15pm, Tefera engages thinkers, policy makers, politicians, business leaders, humanitarian activists and foreign dignitaries visiting Ethiopia. These days Tefera is climbing the media ladder to even greater heights, producing documentaries for local and international consumption with the production company that he formed, ZANA Productions. The company has been involved in research and fixing for international film companies that includes PBS, National Geographic Television, Der Spiegel Television, RTE (Irish Television), IMAX. In 2010, ZANA started contributing for CNN’s World View program.
(Here is a link to Tefera Gedamu’s interview with visual artist Fikru Gebremariam.)
Tefera graduated from the Addis Ababa University with a degree in Sociology in 1983 and worked for ten years as an inspector with the Ministry of Culture and public relation officer in the Council of Representatives before opting to pursue a career in journalism. “A friend who knew of my inclinations for journalism informed me about vacancy at the Ethiopian Television. I applied promptly and I was summoned for written and oral exam. I passed both exams and got employed as freelancer. Eventually, I joined ETV as full time journalist. Since I had a passion for journalism, I would have joined some other media anyway,” Tefera says.
He quickly discovered that, though many hours of training would be necessary, he was a natural in front of the camera. In his approach to interviewing, Tefera says, he focuses more on the ideas of the people than on their private lives. “The nature of the questions I pose differ from person to person. If the guest is an artist and popular figure, I might raise questions of personal nature. However, most of the people who appear on my show are not of this type. It is not that because we are restrictive in our choice of people. In fact, we would most be happy if such people come to our show. One problem is of course a language barrier. But In general, my preferences is for the presentation to revolve around ideas and feelings,” he says.
Asked how he assembles information about the issues and personalities that he approaches, Tefera says he is someone who happens to read anything that comes his way, which helps him to get informed on wide variety of issues. “Actually, a journalist has to update his knowledge through constant reading. You just don’t read as an input for a specific project. An article that you may read today may come in handy at some time in the future. When you pay attention to what is going on, you will develop a sense of what matters.
However, he says in the case of people who are on brief visit to the country, it might be difficult to have the luxury for the preparation. “You just talk to them with little you have. You may not even have time for tying a tie. When the American civil right activist Jesse Jackson came here, I was informed of it in the morning and told I was supposed to talk to him in the afternoon. It was such a rush. I knew the man only on TV. Yet even that didn’t prepare me for the actual meeting. He was physically huge person. I didn’t even have time even for reflecting on what kind of questions I was to put to him. Jessy was media savvy. He used to run the weekly interview show on CNN. I was at a loss to know what kind of questions to ask to person who had talked to different kinds of people. He was a close companion of Martin Luther King. Can you imagine I did not even have the time to get informed on such basic facts? So I did not get to ask him about that for example. So given the short notice I was given, I talked to him within the limits of my knowledge,” Tefera says.
Tefera has interviewed so many people that he finds it hard to single out an interviewee that looms large. Yet he says his conversation with South African social rights activist and retired Anglican bishop, Desmond Tutu was one he treasured. “Despite his status, Desmond Tutu presented himself as an ordinary person during the interview. He did not even think twice when I asked him for the interview. He was willing to answer any question put to him. He is a person who spent a long time in Anti-Apartheid struggle, been in and out of jail, involved in his country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and bringing about stability in his nation. I could not believe I would have the honour of talking to such a man until he came to my studio. I found him to be ready to humble himself,” he says.
If the encounter with Desmond Tutu was special, it was because Tefera also hosted the civil rights activist’s on-air birthday celebration. “Desmond Tutu arrived in Addis to participate in the Africa council of churches and archbishop on October 1997. The pleasant surprise was that on the day he came to the studio was his birthday. I came to know this piece of fact when I gathered some biographical info about him. But he had forgotten this. So we had a birthday cake brought in and celebrated his birthday in the studio. It was an extraordinary experience,” he says.
One of Tefera’s favourite interviewees was with the famous Ethiopian film producer, screenwriter, Haile Gerima. “I have long followed his films, writings and speech. He is someone who expresses himself and his views thoughtfully, openly, and articulately. He has been consistent in his outlook and pan-Africanist views throughout. There are those who find fault with his works, though I feel it is often unjustified. I believe such people should do something productive before setting to criticize others. For me, he came out as someone who responds to your question, with lots of reflection. He seems to have ready answer to any question that you put to him,” says Tefera.
Watching back to some of Tefera’s shows, it became hard to credit him as an example of combative interviewing: some of the interviews with the country’s political figures such as with Bereket Simon, Getachew Reda, Redwan Hussein, Dina Mufti came out as big public relations exercise on the part of the ruling regime, Tefera often times failing to press his subjects for honest answers. At the same time, the relative freedom Tefera and other English journalists enjoy in Ethiopia highlight the spunky role English-language programs and newspapers play in the country, where repressive policies toward the media in the local language reigns.
Tefera freely admits about the dearth of variety in the choice of interviewees, saying he would have approached more people from all walks of life and career had it not been for the lack of linguistic fluency. “I happen to come across young people earning their lives shining shoes who have interesting stories that is worth sharing. Not just them. There are many innovators who I would have loved to talk to. But there is a language barrier to surmount,” he says.
Asked about his role model that he looks up on TV talk show, Tefera mentions the American talk-show host Charlie Rose, who hosts ”Charlie Rose Show” on public television. “He is magnificent, good at asking pointed questions. Many big personalities, heads of states appear on his show and his questions has to do with larger larges issues and exploration of fresh ideas,” he says.
Despite more and more engaged in other lucrative documentary and advertising works, Tefera keeps his show at the EBC, chiefly because the program enabled him to continue doing what he liked doing best, interviewing on television. Yet he is not a type who promotes any of his stories online, and he never uses Facebook and Twitter.
Watch here to Tefera Gedamu’s interview with Dr. Maya Angelou, an American poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. Tefera interviewed her on April 24, 2009 at her Winston-Salem home in North Carolina and she talked about her connection to Ethiopia, the black movement and her writings.)
Meet EBC show times
Thursday 8:15pm EBC 3
Fri 5:15am EBC 1
Sat 8:35pm EBC 1
Sat 8:35pm EBC 3
Mon 5:35am EBC 1
Mon 12:35pm EBC 1