Like all of Eritrean society, the media are subject to the whim of President Issayas Afeworki, a dictator responsible for crimes against humanity, according to a UN report in June 2016. There are no independent media outlets, and journalists have either fled the country or are in prison.
All independent media have been banned since the transition to a dictatorship in September 2001. No foreign or Eritrean media are allowed. The only “media” are those directly controlled by the Ministry of Information – a news agency, a few publications and Eri TV. They are subject to strict oversight and must relay the regime’s propaganda. Online access to news and information is very limited. The only ray of hope for those who want to know what is happening in Eritrea is Radio Erena, an independent and apolitical radio station run by exile journalists in Paris, which celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019. Its radio broadcasts are often jammed, however.
The regime’s grip on news and information is total, as is the paranoia of the dictator, Afeworki, who compartmentalises information and circulates it as little as possible, even among members of his government.
Freedom of the press is guaranteed by the constitution but has never been enforced. Journalism is effectively banned in Eritrea.
Eritrea is one of the poorest countries in the world and the economy has been brought to its knees. Media are banned and there is no media advertising market.
Eritrean society has lived in fear for two decades. Dissidents are arrested or forced to flee abroad, and freedom of expression is non-existent. The few foreign journalists who have been able to visit Eritrea in recent years usually had escorts and the people they interviewed were kept under surveillance.
Many journalists languish in the regime’s prisons, without access to their families or to lawyers. “We won't release him and he won't have a trial”, the president said in a 2009 interview, referring to Dawit Isaak, a journalist with Swedish and Eritrean dual nationality who has been held incommunicado in appalling conditions for the past 20 years. Surveillance is permanent and ubiquitous and, in Internet cafés, everyone including journalists must identify themselves before being allowed to connect to the Internet.