In the span of two years, from November 2020 to November 2022, a conflict of unprecedented scale ravaged northern Ethiopia, leaving behind a haunting legacy as one of the deadliest conflicts since the Second World War. Beyond the staggering loss of life, this chapter in Ethiopian history was marred by a complex tapestry of humanitarian crises, widespread human rights violations, and the looming specter of regional instability. As we grapple with the aftermath of this relentless conflict, it becomes increasingly apparent that its impact extends far beyond the confines of the battlefield.
For every Ethiopian, scholar or ordinary citizen, this crisis holds a deeply personal significance. It surpasses the realm of academic curiosity or distant concern; it is a lived experience that resonates with countless individuals across the nation. The war transcends being a crisis relegated to the annals of history; it is a profound narrative that has indelibly shaped the lives and perspectives of many.
While the war in northern Ethiopia may have officially ceased, tensions persist between various regions, armed groups, and the federal government. Lingering conflicts, internet blackouts, and the tragic toll on civilian lives serve as stark reminders of the enduring fragility of the nation.
Even though the events have come to a formal halt, their reverberations echo throughout the nation, urging us to critically examine the narratives that have emerged in their aftermath and untangle the complex interplay between media, politics, and the harsh realities faced by the Ethiopian people throughout this devastating conflict.
Categorizing war-time media by political leaning
Over the course of the Tigray conflict, media outlets aligned with different political leanings have played a significant role in shaping public perception and discourse.
To comprehend the influence of various perspectives, we can categorize media outlets into three distinct groups: those aligned with the government, those closer to the TPLF, and those striving for neutrality. This classification allows us to understand the nuances of media coverage and navigate the complex web of narratives, and foster a more informed and balanced understanding of the Tigray conflict.
Advocacy vs. Objectivity
Media outlets represent a diverse tapestry of political perspectives that shape the framing, language, and emphasis in their coverage. It is through this varied lens that we gain insights into the multitude of viewpoints that shape public discourse.
Another important aspect to consider is the presence of potential bias in media coverage. Identifying such biases not only helps us recognize instances of partiality but also lays the groundwork for exploring how these biases influence the portrayal of events.
Our comprehensive analysis of diverse media sources ensures a holistic understanding of the conflict, enabling us to weave together a complete narrative by considering different angles and nuances in their reporting.
Media holds considerable influence over public opinion and perceptions of events. Therefore, examining the media landscape from various political spectrums becomes crucial in understanding how it shapes public discourse and attitudes.
Media outlets aligned with the federal government have been observed to employ strong language and emotional appeals. Their rhetoric includes terms such as “terrorists,” “Woyanes,” “genocidaires,” “cancer,” and “barbarians,” which inaccurately portray Tigrayans as inherently violent. This deliberate use of emotional appeals aims to incite anger and hatred among the public, bolstering the government’s military campaign.
When analyzing the content choices made by these sources, it becomes evident that they consistently portray the government as a victim in the conflict, emphasizing alleged TPLF atrocities while downplaying the humanitarian crisis.
Evaluating overt bias in pro-government sources reveals a consistent pattern favoring the government and demonizing the TPLF, contributing to a polarized narrative.
Pro-TPLF media outlets have employed strong language to convey their perspective. Terms such as “dictator,” “war criminal,” “genocidaire,” “Ethiopian Hitler,” and “tyrant” have been used in reference to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD). These sources have also characterized the Prosperity Party as the “genocidal party,” “fascist party,” and “ethnic chauvinist party,” and utilized loaded expressions to negatively portray the Amhara people as “genocidal people,” “ethnic chauvinists,” and “Amhara supremacists.”
The strategic use of loaded language and emotional appeals by these outlets aims to influence public opinion and rally support for the TPLF’s perspective within the ongoing conflict. They prioritize aspects such as the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, the suffering of Tigrayan civilians, atrocities attributed to Ethiopian forces and Eritrean troops, the role of the Ethiopian government, and the international community’s response. These focal points are intended to garner support for the TPLF’s cause.
When evaluating overt bias in pro-TPLF sources, it is important to consider that these outlets themselves face allegations of bias. While they emphasize the suffering of Tigrayan civilians and report on atrocities attributed to Ethiopian forces and Eritrean troops, they may be less inclined to report on the alleged atrocities committed by TPLF forces. This selective reporting and use of loaded language contribute to the perception of bias in their coverage.
The delicate balance of neutrality
Renowned news outlets known for their impartiality have largely maintained a balanced approach in their coverage of the conflict, avoiding biased language and emotional appeals. While there were isolated instances of potentially inflammatory language, especially regarding government forces, these sources overall demonstrated a commitment to fairness in their reporting.
An analysis of their material selection reveals a comprehensive approach, covering key aspects of the northern War. This includes the humanitarian crisis, military conflict, and political dimensions, delving into topics such as displacement, food and medical shortages, and atrocities committed by both sides, providing a nuanced and well-rounded portrayal.
When examining overt bias in these neutral sources, subtle variations in emphasis become apparent. They highlight civilian suffering, the conflict itself, and the political ramifications. These nuanced differences underscore the importance of critically evaluating even neutral sources to gain a comprehensive understanding of the complexities surrounding the War.
The Rise of Fact-Checking
Fact-checking has become an invaluable tool for assessing the accuracy and reliability of media sources in their coverage of the War. Reputable fact-checking websites and organizations, such as Africa Check, BBC Africa Eye, FactCheck.org, the Poynter Institute’s International Fact-Checking Network, and the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism’s Verification Handbook, have played a crucial role in this process.
Through fact-checking, instances of misrepresentation and distortion in media coverage have been brought to light. Examples include the manipulation of casualty figures, misattribution of violence, and the use of inflammatory language and emotional appeals.
In conclusion, our examination of post-truth rhetoric in the context of the Tigray Civil War has revealed the immense power of language and the profound impact of the media in shaping public perceptions and attitudes.
As we scrutinized news sources representing various political perspectives, it became evident that the war was not solely fought on the physical battlefield—it was equally a battleground of narratives, where words possessed the ability to incite fear, anger, and division.
Categorizing news sources into pro-government, pro-TPLF, and neutral categories highlighted the significant role played by bias in media coverage. While complete neutrality may be elusive, the importance of diverse perspectives cannot be overstated, there were instances of biased language and emotional appeals that contributed to the polarization of public opinion.
Fact-checking has emerged as a crucial tool, shedding light on misrepresentation and distortion in the coverage and providing a more nuanced understanding of the conflict. It emphasizes the necessity of critical thinking and discernment in an era of manipulated information.
As the Tigray Civil War officially concludes, it is incumbent upon all of us to critically examine the narratives that have emerged.
Moving forward, the narrative must center on healing, justice, and lasting peace. While the war may have ended, the story of Ethiopia and its people is far from over. It is our collective responsibility to ensure that this story becomes one of hope, reconciliation, and a brighter future for all.
(Abel Amare is a software developer with a background in both Electrical Engineering (BSc) and Computer Science (MSc). He can be contacted at [email protected].)
Contributed by Abel A. Amare