Dr. Samson Mekonnen, is an Assistant Professor and Postgraduate Program and Research Coordinator at Addis Ababa University’s School of Journalism and Communication. He earned a BA degree in Journalism and Communication. He received his postgraduate degree from Addis Ababa University in two areas of specialization: Master of Arts in English Literature and Master of Arts in Marketing Management. Furthermore, in November 2020, graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in Communication Science from the University of South Africa. He has over eight research articles published in internationally renowned academic journals in the fields of media, communication, nation branding, and integrated marketing communications. Aside from academics, he works as a consultant for a variety of local and international non-governmental organizations, including Share-Net International, HANZ Consulting, and CORHA and an international postdoc fellow at BathSpa University, United Kingdom.


The study of media and communication science as seen through the prism of quantum physics provides an interesting lesson. The concepts of the black hole and white hole in quantum physics offer some critical insights into the strife over agenda setting, particularly in Ethiopia’s upcoming National Dialogue. A black hole is a spot in the cosmos with a gravitational pull so powerful that even light, cannot escape it. A white hole, on the other hand, is a peculiar cosmic object that is incredibly luminous; and contrary to a black hole, matter gushes out of it rather than vanishes. The prevailing understanding is that, particularly in the context of Ethiopian national dialogue, the media landscape closely resembles these cosmic objects. The media, either through mainstream broadcast or print pulls so strongly that even the public agenda is immersed in such a way that it cannot get out for public discussion – the media black hole. The flip side of it is that the media sets an agenda whereby the public agenda gushes out from the media itself for public deliberation in some cases.

It is clear that national dialogue processes must be able to give the public an opportunity to set agenda. Ethiopia’s National Dialogue, per its proclamation document, is outlined to be a people-centered process, unlike what many fear would instead be a bargaining of elites. Agenda setting tends to take place in a multi-step approach; setting out key themes for discussion, often codified in the mandating document; elaborating these further into a comprehensive agenda; developing a working method, including sequencing and timing. It is possible for the agenda to emerge out of highly participatory processes of consultation within stakeholder groups, and in the wider public. The national dialogue commission often gathers all agenda points derived from earlier agreements and consultations with the crucial stakeholders and puts them forward for discussion at the National Dialogue. The ultimate agenda items are decided by the participants of the process.


The agenda-setting behavior of the media poses a serious problem in the process of national dialogue. The media’s agenda-setting function shapes the processes that result in the perceived biggest issues and solutions to public problems. Any democratic system must have the ability to determine the issues that the public should discuss and take action on. According to the conventional agenda-setting theory, the media shape public opinion by drawing attention to and emphasizing particular concerns. However, in the context of national discussion, this is clearly inappropriate. The media’s capacity to formulate agendas is problematic inasmuch as it prevents even the most basic public agenda from being brought up for public deliberation.

There is a black hole in the Ethiopian media landscape due to various factors. One major problem is the issue of professionalism in reporting national dialogue. A Survey of Ethiopian universities shows that there is a curriculum gap in reporting on national dialogues/ conversations while specialty-reporting courses are evident including conflict reporting, courtroom reporting, business reporting, war journalism, and peace journalism. The lack of a context-based national dialogue media and communication guideline document further broadens the media gap in professionalism. It is important to note that the ‘ethnicized’ media houses in the country serving, a narrow base of interest groups pose a headache to the commission. The second indicator of a black hole is the editorial policy of these media houses tends to absorb the agenda of the public – a media black hole, while exponentiation of its own agenda – a media white hole.

National Dialogues have recently generated interest among and support from actors in the international community (i.e. foreign ministries, donors, the UN, international NGOs, media houses, etc.).External actors in a dialogue process are “actors without direct participation in the dialogue or a direct stake in the outcomes of the process. Having no direct stake, however, does not mean having no interests. The extent of foreign interest and their powerful media to intervene in the process of national dialogue challenges the agenda-setting privilege of the public. The black hole is not in the local media houses but is further visible in the landscape of international media entities, as observed through the CNN Effect, Manufacturing Consent, and other such methods of narrative framing.

Prior to the agenda identification process, it is crucial to create a comprehensive set of rules, a code of conduct, or protocols that involved parties and media practitioners must abide by regarding the agenda-setting process and the media’s involvement. The national dialogue commission in the preparation phase of the dialogue perhaps with more professional consultation frequently creates these. Such an approach facilitates adherence to a strategy and offers procedural direction.

Excision of the public agenda from the media agenda while setting the agenda for national dialogue demands a critical eye for diagnosis. The agenda-setting process is unique and complex; requiring considerable preparation. Designing an effective process is thus an essential and delicate step and requires technical and professional insights.

The lesson learned through the national dialogue experience is that the societal impact of even highly successful dialogue processes will be limited if few people are aware that it has taken place and if the media and other entities hijack the public agenda. Broadening media participation, and enhancing freedom of media in a manner enabling them to play their part in making the National Dialogue a success.To this end, the media black hole, or the white hole, must be critically assessed and a scientific communication strategy must be devised.