(photo credit: Benny Voodoo)
In a move meant to improve integration of Ethiopian immigrants into Israeli society, the Israel Broadcasting Authority (IBA) has hired its first full-time Ethiopian news reporter for a mainstream, daily news program.
Ayanawo Farada Sanbatu, 28, will start reporting within a month for Channel 1's nightly news on education, social welfare and politics.
"I do not see myself as Ethiopian but, rather, as a fully integrated Israeli," Sanbatu told The Jerusalem Post Wednesday. "However, while I am an Israeli and a Jew, I do realize that my appearance on television will help change the image of black people in our society."
Sanbatu, who made aliya as part of Operation Solomon in 1991, has worked as a reporter for Haaretz and for local publications in the central region. He also worked as a researcher for Channel 1's Second Look.
Altough other Ethiopians have worked as reporters for local news stations on a freelance basis, Sanbatu is the first to be earn a staff position.
Sanbatu was hired in a joint effort by the IBA and the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, which will pay his salary for the first year, after which Channel 1 will.
"I see this as a great success for me personally," Sanbatu said. "Channel 1 has an extremely professional and high-quality news program."
If Sanbatu proves to be a "good journalist, then he will definitely continue with us," Channel 1 news director Nitzan Chen told the Post. "This is true integration of Ethiopian Israelis in public positions."
In May, the government approved an affirmative-action policy aimed at increasing the number of Civil Service employees of Ethiopian descent. Government offices have been instructed to hire more Ethiopian immigrants.
According to the Israel Association of Ethiopian Jews, even though the number of Ethiopians with higher education has more than doubled over the past 10 years, very few are accepted to work in public institutions and are forced to take jobs below their capability.
"This is an extremely positive step for the Ethiopian community," said Shmuel Yilma, head of immigrant integration for the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee. "Not only will [Sanbatu] be a role model for Ethiopian youth, he has also opened the gates for others like him in the future."
The media makes an enormous contribution to the images we see everyday in society, he said, and even if Sanbatu does not recognize himself first and foremost as an Ethiopian, his appearance on television will change perceptions.
Chen said he believed the appearance of ethnic minorities on mainstream television would eventually filter down into other areas. He said he also planned to hire reporters from the former Soviet Union and from the Arab community.
The central aim of the plan, which will be widened to other areas of television and radio, was to help immigrants find their places in the broadest spectrum of the workforce, said Immigrant Absorption Ministry director-general Erez Halfon. He urged directors and editors of all electronic and print media to join the effort by making jobs available to new immigrants.