Opposing Airstrike Narratives
The Ethiopian government conducted airstrikes in Tigray. The first one was carried out on Monday last week and a fourth strike was conducted on Friday. It signals an escalation of the 12-month armed conflict between belligerent parties led by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on one side and the federal government on the other side.
The airstrikes have grabbed the attention of major global news outlets. Instantly, the belligerents rushed to give their own version of reports on the airstrikes.
Soon after the airstrikes, TPLF and its affiliated regional state media reported the airstrike and accused the federal government of intentionally targeting civilians and private properties. They claimed that the airstrikes were meant to deliberately massacre civilians, destroy public and private properties, and to terrorise the people.
(Image source: Associated Press)
The federal government on the other hand stated that the air attacks were targeted on TPLF’s armament maintenance buildings, military training centers, and bases previously belonging to the Ethiopian army and currently being used by TPLF.
A tendency of using images that are irrelevant to a particular reporting has been trending even by renowned global news outlets. Using irrelevant pictures without the appropriate description contributes to information disorder. The impact may also be bigger in contrast with the level of media illiteracy of the Ethiopian public.
For instance, Reuters, France24, and Egypt Independent used irrelevant images and some of them without description in their reports about the recent airstrikes by the federal government in Tigray. Three of them used different images that depict damaged military tanks. They might have used such images to show ongoing active war, but it contributes to information disorder or even misinformation.
Another reporting by Daily News Egypt on Facebook also used an image from November 16, 2020, without any description. The image was also previously fact checked by HaqCheck as a subject of another claim.
Even though there is a description and caption embedded under the images, using images unrelated to an issue might still mislead and misinform the public. The reporting of Aljazeera titled “Air raids target capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray; 3 civilians dead” used an image from June, showing an injured woman being hospitalized, as its cover. Even though the caption of the image clarifies when it was taken, it still potentially misleads the audience and creates controversy about whether civilians were attacked or not by the airstrike.
Misquotation of the Prime Minister’s speech
The Telegraph, a UK based news outlet reported that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) threatened to stop food aid from entering the country.
The newspaper stated that Abiy indicated in his speech that he may stop international food aid from entering into Tigray to diminish diplomatic pressure on the country.
The PM made the speech during a visit to Oromia Regional State with regional and federal government officials.
In a statement issued on October 20, 2021, the Ethiopian government stated that the PM said, “if we make sure that this thing called wheat [food aid] does not enter Ethiopia, 70 percent of Ethiopia's problems will be solved” indicating his desire to see the country food self-sufficient.
Ethiopia Current Issues Fact Check-governmental public relation or fact checking initiative?
While the initiative of fact-checking by the government regarding ongoing issues is appreciated and is important at this time, the platform’s name ( fact check) and actions are often contrasting.
Even Though updating the public with timely information plays a great role in countering disinformation, the role of fact checking is different from news reporting. Fact checking needs monitoring controversies, claims and false information and giving the factual information based on solid evidence.
Instead of using the available information and evidence as an advantage to fact check the false information that has engulfed social media and the international media, the platform is observed playing governmental role in public relations and communication.
This undertaking is far from the standard of fact checking and may create confusion and misunderstanding of the public's perspective of what fact checking is.
Wrong Images for Borana Drought
Recently reports have been coming out that the Borana zone, a southern zone in the Oromia Regional State, has been hit by drought. According to a report by Addis Standard, a local news outlet, thousands of people have been suffering from malnutrition and 7,540 cattle are dead due to the drought.
There were campaigns and reports on social media regarding the drought in Borana. Images that don't actually show the reality in the zone were used mainly on Facebook. For instance, the image below was widely circulating on social media landscapes. While HaqCheck understands and shares the concerns over the matter, it has confirmed that false images were utilized and this image, however, is from another publication issued in March 2021 on a trending global safe water crisis. Here is an instant link to the original image.
Kombolcha Industrial Park used as a weapon depot
Another claim that proliferated in the social media landscape, particularly Twitter, was a claim that the Ethiopian army is using the Kombolcha Industrial Park as a military depot for storing weapons.
The tweets on the issue were disseminated with a hashtag campaign. The claim followed after allegations that the TPLF is using the premises of Mesfin Industrial Engineering, a large industrial complex in Mekelle, for military purposes. According to Reuters, the industrial complex was one of the targets during the recent airstrikes. The tweets had been circulating in many accounts.
Ceres Juice controversy
On October 14 the Ethiopian Food and Drug Authority (EFDA) announced that a toxin is found in a juice and the public should refrain from using it. The headline of the announcement originally written in Amharic reads, “The Authority advises the public not to use Cerece apple juice as it contains a 100% harmful toxin caused by mold.“
However, the manufacturing company and the importer blamed the EFDA for exaggerating the issue and misinforming the public. The matter is the report of the EFDA and other media outlets saying “100% harmful toxic elements found…'' is a wrong way of addressing the issue. As the authority explained for EBS news the mistake happened during translation and what the statement should have said is “harmful toxic element found in Ceres 100% apple juice..” Due to negligent reporting the pub;ic was misinformed.
Norway offering visa lottery
Another misinformative content during the past week was a message on a Telegram channel that claims Norway is offering a visa lottery to foreigners. The link attached in the message refers to an application form requesting personal information. HaqCheck has contacted the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Addis Ababa and confirmed that Norway doesn't offer a visa lottery opportunity, therefore the message is rated as False.
HaqCheck recommends news outlets use relevant images and/or put a proper description of the images used in their reports. As visual elements have very strong power in imparting particular information effectively, using unrelated and inaccurate images during reporting plays a prominent role in deceiving and misinforming the audience.
Government institutions should give accurate and timely information regarding ongoing issues. This also applies to the Ethiopia Current Issues Fact Check.
Media organizations should maintain professional accuracy during reporting and must depend on verified firsthand information. They have to avoid elements of ping-pong reporting that echo the claims of the two sides without independent inquiries.
Journalists and reporters should be careful in their reporting when translating, quoting and framing any information. Mistakes made due to poor journalism could become catastrophic and challenging to control. These kinds of mistakes may also misinform and mislead the public and result in urging people towards a wrong decision based on the information they got.
HaqCheck is a local multilingual fact-checking project based in Ethiopia, formed inside Addis Zeybe’s newsroom, now Inform Africa’s Counter Disinformation Project - a board-led Civil Society Organization (CSO) - dedicated to verifying media contents from social to the mainstream. HaqCheck works in collaboration with media outlets to monitor media contents in English and four local languages (Amharic, Afaan Oromo, Tigrigna, and Somali).
This report is produced with the support of UNESCO under the #CoronavirusFacts: Addressing the ‘Disinfodemic’ on COVID-19 in conflict-prone Environments that the UNESCO Addis Ababa Office is implementing in Ethiopia with financial support from the European Union (EU). The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of UNESCO or the EU concerning the legal status of any country, territory, city, or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. The ideas and opinions expressed in this publication are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO or The European Union and do not commit these organizations in any way.