PJ needed to set the tone for peace in Ethiopia
It is with great alarm that I view the current violent conflict in Ethiopia, where I spent the spring, 2018 semester as a State Department Senior Subject Specialist. I was based at the University of Gondar, near the Tigray region from where the conflict originates, but traveled throughout the country, including to Mekelle (also spelled Mek'ele), the capital of the Tigray region.
As a peace journalist, I am as always concerned with the news media and their coverage of the conflict. Are they accurately reflecting the situation in Ethiopia? Are they fanning the flames of conflict, or instead are they practicing peace journalism?
I called upon two of my Ethiopian colleagues to help me make sense of the media coverage. I’ve decided not to use their names, out of respect for their privacy.
First, regarding international coverage, both of my colleagues are critical of the news media. My colleague whom I’ll call Abel said, “some of the international reporting has been surprisingly incomplete and partisan. The national defense forces were engaged in respecting rule of law in the defiant Tigray Liberation Front Forces. While this was the fact many news organizations such as Al Jazeera, Foreign Policy Magazine, the BBC and The Guardian represented the event as a brink of civil war. This is totally out of context and incomplete.”
He continued, “The other dishonest news come from Reuters news agency. While the Tigrayan Liberation forces have killed more than 500 ethnic Amhara civilians in border town of May Khadra, the reporter reported as (though) they were ethnic Tigrayans and were killed the national defense force. This is totally a fake information which is aimed at disinforming the international community.”
My second colleague whom I’m calling Kaleb agreed. He said, “Most of international news are biased... This is not civil war. It is a military operation…I also believe that Tigrayan brothers and sisters are ill informed and highly influenced by TPLF’s (the ruling party in Tigray) propaganda and disinformation. TPLF has created a false narrative in the country that Amhara (the region bordering Tigray, which includes Gondar) is chauvinist.”
Media coverage by Ethiopian outlets is also a concern. At the local level during any conflict, peace journalism asks whether local media reports are flag waving, jingoistic propaganda (traditional war reporting), or whether they are more balanced and give local residents a chance to consider non-violent responses to conflict.
A quick perusal of several Ethiopian news sources reveals the prevalence of traditional war reporting. (Keep in mind that there are only a few sources in English, so this analysis is severely limited.) The Ethiopia News Agency (https://www.ena.et/en/), for example, uncritically parrots government information in stories titled “Inhabitants of Addis Ababa Express Support for National Defense Force,” “Ethiopians Honor Defense Force,” and “Reports, Footages Claiming Airstrike on City of Mekelle (in Tigray region) False.” Ethiopia Zare (https://ethiopiazare.com/) does the same in stories like “The Ethiopian government asked the international community to condemn TPLF.” One needn’t look beyond the lead of this story to divine its approach: “The heinous and reprehensible massacre committed against innocent civilians in Mykadra by TPLF is clearly a grave violation of the most basic norms of international law.”
The same jingoism can be found in at least one Tigrayan media outlet, Tigray Online (http://www.tigraionline.com/) in stories titled “Barbaric-Genocidal Ethnic Cleansing, Extreme Savagery, in Ethiopia,” “(Ethiopian leaders) Abiy Ahmed and Esayas Afewerki Planned and Started a Joint War against the Innocent People of Tigrai,” and “Ethiopians fleeing to Sudan describe air strikes, machete killings in Tigray.” This last story includes the quote, “They killed anyone who said they were Tigrayan. They stole our money, our cattle, and our crops from our homes and we ran with just the clothing on our backs.”
Instead of this traditional reporting, peace journalists would critically analyze propaganda, and instead seek to balance stories with reports from all sides. PJ stories would reject inflammatory language (“barbaric,” “innocent people,” “savagery,” “machete killings”) and instead use more straightforward, less anger-inducing verbiage. PJ would give a voice to everyday people impacted by the conflict, without exploiting them for partisan purposes. Peace journalists would also examine the source of the conflict, and lead societal discussions about potential solutions.
Peace journalism alone won’t end the violence in Ethiopia, but can help erect a foundation upon which peace can someday be built.