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Tigray Conflict: Media Warfare to Protect the Villain

By Sertseyonas Negash

Yellow journalism, a practice usually characterized by sensational reports and media coverage of dubious accuracy and taste, has been widely practiced by both mainstream as well as social media outlets during wartimes and conflicts. Such reports resort to eye-catching headlines; exaggerate news events, and treat news in an unprofessional and unethical manner. Sensationalism is mainly intended to gain a huge number of readers and viewers and thereby promote a certain agenda to influence or rather hoodwink the audiences. Media coverage of the conflict in Tigray Region of Ethiopia is a typical case in point.

Most often, “ war crime, gang rape, ethnic cleansing, blockade, and looting” are terms associated with the ongoing Tigray conflict. The excessive hyperbole that is gratuitously invoked without rigorous examination of facts on the ground, and its timing, invariably invoked whenever the TPLF is on the back foot, indeed belie a sinister political agenda of external intervention designed to salvage the culpable party. Furthermore, most of the reports by media and “Rights Groups” are done from outside Tigray by consulting people affiliated to the TPLF. Hence, a person or a group who has never been to Tigray since the start of the war cannot come up with a concrete and empirical report that reflects the actual reality on the ground.

An illustrative example of such reporting is a self-contradictory article entitled, ‘Ethiopia’s Invisible Ethnic Cleansing – The World Can’t Afford to Ignore Tigray’, written by Agnes Callamard of Amnesty International and Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch on Foreign Affairs on June 2, 2022.

This article has made several allegations of abuses, but, paradoxically, it made the following statement as well: ‘…many of these abuses have been hidden from view. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has imposed communication restrictions throughout Tigray and obstructed the efforts of independent investigators, journalists, and humanitarian workers, making it difficult to verify accounts from the region.’

If it is indeed difficult to verify purported “accounts of abuses” in the region, how can the authors justify their outrageous allegations without minimum validation and verification? This fact alone renders their report a mere diatribe of “activists and militants” rather than an objective and professional account of facts and events gauged through established procedures, norms and metrics of humanitarian laws of war.

The article is also guilty of gross omission of key facts and events. It glosses over the cardinal question on the causes of the war. Long before the war broke out, TPLF was preparing for the offensive, covertly as well as overtly. The indelible fact is that TPLF launched pre-meditated, massive and coordinated attacks on all the positions of Ethiopia’s Northern Command on the night of November 3, 2020. TPLF wrongly believed that it could neutralize the Northern Command, and seize all its heavy weaponry which constituted 80% of Ethiopia’s total arsenal in its blitzkrieg. In addition to this, in launching its war of choice, the TPLF’s twin objectives were to seize power in Ethiopia and to pursue its hostile agenda “of territorial expansion” against Eritrea.

Most mainstream media reports of the conflict do not only lack depth and objectivity, largely carried out as they are through remote sensing, but they also ignore reality and context. In this perspective, they totally ignore or do not take into account the TPLF’s crimes in the Amhara and Afar regions. For instance, TPLF soldiers deliberately massacred dozens of civilians, raped women and underage girls, and vandalized civilian as well as public properties when they seized control of the town of Kobo in the Amhara region.

In the event, TPLF and its handlers do not have any moral ground to accuse other parties on the basis of fallacious allegations. TPLF, an organization designated as a terrorist group by the Ethiopian government, should be accountable for all the miseries the people of Tigray facing today. In addition to their past miscalculations, TPLF leaders are beating war drums and instilling siege mentality on Tigrayan society to perpetuate the sufferings of the people of Tigray. However, these are issues willfully ignored by most mainstream media outlets that are largely at the beck and call of the TPLF’s principal Enablers.

Nonetheless, there are a handful of reporters covering the situation in Tigray objectively and professionally, by travelling to the battle grounds and through extensive contacts and validation of testimonial and other evidences. An article entitled, US Threatening Ethiopia and Eritrea with Illegal “Designation of Genocide”, written by Ann Garrison on May 26, 2022 underscored the reality of unhindered flow of humanitarian aid into Tigray region to the world. She wrote her article by travelling to the Afar region of Ethiopia.

In her article, Ann Garrison asked New Zealand journalist Alastair Thompson, who had recently travelled to Ethiopia’s Afar region, to describe the aid convoys he saw while travelling to a town found on the border between Afar and Tigray. He described the situation as follows:

On the way I saw a large number of trucks driving up. We drove past them because they were traveling more slowly than we were. And on the following day, when we returned, we saw more trucks traveling up and we also saw a large convoy staged at Silsa, about maybe 100 kilometers from Semara that was about to depart from Mekelle.

He, furthermore, testified that, . . . after the convoys depart from Silsa, the security is fairly simple. There are a series of checkpoints, not that many of them, at different intervals along the road manned by the Afar. There’s no sign of the Ethiopian army in the area. And there seems to be a very orderly running of the convoys.

The stark difference between media willful distortion and fact-based, objective reporting largely mirrors the distinct political agenda of different players.

The situation transcends normal “fog of war”, or inevitable inaccuracies that stem from issues of access and/or paucity of information. The distorted portrayal of facts and events; the gratuitous use of defamatory terms without irrefutable evidences; are indeed derivatives and manifestations of the Revisionist Narrative that TPLF Enablers have been pushing to portray the villain as the victim to pave the ground for its eventual rehabilitation.

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