The BBC’s Failed Anti-Eritrea Mission

BBC Tigrinya

The BBC’s Failed Anti-Eritrea Mission

When the BBC launched its Amharic, Afan Oromo, and Tigrinya services in late 2017, it boasted that these services would fill the information void faced by the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Will Ross, the man who was responsible for setting up these services, proudly claimed that the BBC would help Eritreans find their true place in the World. It has never been made clear just what this statement actually means.

One has to remember that by the time the BBC had its Tigrinya service up and running, its partner in crime, The Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) which had ruled Ethiopia with a barbaric iron fist for twenty-seven years, was on the verge of being ousted from power by the struggle of the Ethiopian people.

The beginning of the end of the reign of the TPLF was marked by the arrest of its main financial backer, Mohammed Al Amoudi the Ethiopian born Saudi business man, by the Saudi government on charges of corruption.

Bearing in mind that Mohammed Al Amoudi was a very powerful figure in TPLF controlled Ethiopia— if not the most powerful man who had the entire country in the palm of his hand— news of his arrest should have been huge, warranting extensive cover. But the BBC, whom we were told would fill the information vacuum, chose to ignore such a hugely politically significant news, as reporting it would dishearten the followers of the TPLF and as such was not sanctioned by the TPLF, which for all intents and purposes made— and still does— the editorial decisions at the BBC Tigrinya services.  

The assertion that an organisation like the BBC would relinquish its editorial responsibilities to the TPLF, might seem a bit far fetched, until one examines the circumstances under which the service was set up.

When positions in the soon to be set up BBC services were advertised, the salaries were set so low, that no self respecting professional journalist would be interested to work for such meagre pay. I suspect, although this is a personal opinion, that the BBC had made arrangements with either the then Ethiopian government or the TPLF, to supplement the salaries of those who would be eventually be given the positions. When one sees who ended up getting the jobs, and examine their backgrounds and links with the TPLF, it is clear that, like the iceberg there is more than meets the eye.

Yemane Negish, the head of the BBC Tigrinya, is someone who has come through the ranks of the TPLF’s propaganda apparatus. His aim and ambition to drive a wedge between the people of Eritrea and their government by using propaganda, is on record. So also is his claim that the Eritrean government is an illegal entity more akin to a mafia group than a proper government. Despite these views, he is still allowed by the BBC to be in charge of the Tigrinya service, which counts the Eritrean people amongst its audience.  

Another TPLF stalwart employed by the BBC is Girmay Gebru a former rebel fighter with the TPLF, who is based in Tigray. Girmay is the TPLF’s fixer. His speciality is to get those who have witnessed or experienced the atrocities committed by the TPLF, to change their story. His modus operandi  is to pay a visit to anyone who has commented against the TPLF in a story that has gotten attention, and air a retraction euphemistically labelled as a ‘voluntarily’ revised version of events. Sometime ago when the BBC reported about the dire food shortages in TPLF controlled Ethiopia, Girmay Gebru who was then the VOA correspondent, visited the area and managed to get the people that had been interviewed on camera by the BBC, to change their story. After the TPLF has been ousted from the seat of power, as a BBC reporter, he visited the area where the TPLF’s General Kinfe Dagenew had been arrested by Ethiopian forces while trying to flee the country, and managed to get the people who a day earlier had said the General was caught fleeing, to change their version of events so that it appeared that the General had in fact handed himself over to the authorities willingly. In June of 2019, when the Ethiopian Satellie Television (ESat) broke the news that Dr. Aregawi Berhe had been arrested in Makale while on his way to attend the funeral of the assassinated General Seare Makonen, it was Girmay Gebru that interviewed Dr. Argewai Berhe while  the doctor was under police escort at Makele airport waiting to be put on a flight back to the Ethiopian capital, and broadcasted Dr Aregawi Berhe’s  supposed rebuttal of the reports of his arrest. Dr. Argewai Berhe, once in the Ethiopian capital and out of reach from Girmay and his henchmen, explained at a press conference that he had indeed been arrested while in Makele and his driver forced to drink poison. The BBC conveniently did not cover this story nor amended their version of events, nor did they make any attempts to ask Dr. Aregawi Berhe to explain why he had given such differing accounts in a matter of few hours.

As of the early hours of 4th November 2020, the Ethiopian government in response to its military camps in the north of the country and its soldiers there being attacked by TPLF forces, has launched a major military campaign to restore law and order in the region controlled by the TPLF. This area is the home territory of the BBC Tigrinya and one would naturally expect extensive coverage of events in the region. It is true that the internet is down and according to the Ethiopian government it is the TPLF itself that had disconnected it — something never mentioned by the BBC— in its bid to control the flow of information to the people of Tigray and keep them in the dark about the reality on the ground.

Despite the supposed internet disruption, Girmay Gebru the BBC’s correspondent in Tigray, manages to send reports which are usually aimed at contradicting the version of events given by the Ethiopian government, or highlight what they call ‘atrocities’ committed by the Federal government.

The BBC’s Tigrinya services might use the lack of communication lines with  Tigray for not reporting on events there. But its efforts to suppress any news that is deemed to be against the narrow interests  of the TPLF, is exposed by its decision not to report on events deemed to be against the interests of the TPLF which occur outside of Tigray. As an example of this, the recent visit to Ethiopia by a high level Sudanese delegation led by the leader of the country has been ignored, so has the shuttle diplomacy of the Ethiopian government that has seen the Ethiopian foreign minster tour neighbouring countries. In addition, the condemnation by the United States Assistant Secretary of African Affairs and the United States Secretary of State, of the 14th November rocket attack on the Eritrean capital by the TPLF forces has been ignored by the BBC, as has the condemnation by other countries,  of this terrorist act perpetuated by the TPLF on Eritrea. There is also  no mention by the BBC of the gratitude expressed by the American Secretary of State, about the Eritrean governments restraint in light of the unmitigated provocation.

Despite the Ethiopian government giving daily briefings on the conduct of its operation against the TPLF, unsurprisingly, the BBC Tigrinya service has chosen to ignore it. As such, despite Will Ross’ empty boast, we now find ourselves in a position where more information about Tigray, the home ground of the BBC Tigrinya service, can be found from Ethiopian government sources, while the BBC has chosen to stick its head deep into the sand—hoping for a miraculous turn of events to save its TPLF.

There should be an independent investigation into the way the BBC, especially its Tigrinya service, has reported on the events in Ethiopia, with particular focus on the events that have transpired since 4th November 2020, as there seems to have been a deliberate and concerted attempt by the BBC to suppress information and news on behalf of the TPLF.

Questions should be asked as to why the BBC is exercising self censorship, at the expense of the public’s right to be informed. With the Ethiopian government recently revoking the licence of Reuters and the warning given to the BBC regarding its standard of reporting, the process of holding the BBC accountable has began. Governments and people across Africa, are waking up and seeing the BBC for what it is, a well oiled propaganda machine working against the interest of Africa and Africans— something Eritreans have known for a very long time.

Yafet Zereou

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