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The Latest Blunder by CNN

 Fact Checking the CNN Report on Tigray 

There is a CNN report compiled by none other than Nima El Bahgir doing the rounds of the western media bureaus and western government agencies. The report, purportedly, claims that, among other crimes, “Eritrean soldiers are blocking access to the city of Axum” in Northern Ethiopia in Tigray administrative region. Melodrama of covert cameras, “ brave reporters” facing possible arrest to get the truth out, blah, blah, blah, a closer inspection of the report immediately brings forth several facts that put the whole report and by extension the credibility of CNN itself on the line. 

Fact Check 1: The most glaring omission must be that nowhere in the report is mention made of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) which, for those who do not know, was the ruling party in Tigray region until it made a miscalculation and attacked an Ethiopian Federal army base in its region on November 4, 2020 prompting a retaliatory attack by the Ethiopian Federal government in which the TPLF was routed from its capital Meqelle and is now fighting an insurgency war. Mention is made once of Tigrayan fighters by the reporter and she even dares show footage of soldiers at a distance walking in single-file and she claims that they were “Tigrayan fighters fighting for regional autonomy.” How did she get so close to these fighters? Who told her they were Tigrayan? If she was in their vicinity, then she must have gotten permission from their superiors to do so and film them? We have only the reporters claim that they were indeed Tigrayan fighters (note she never uses the term TPLF). How could she tell they were not Ethiopian militia, maybe even Amhara Regional Forces or heaven-forbid, even her despised Eritrean army units themselves. But no, she has said it and the whole world has to believe it. She is after all an award-winning reporter from CNN no less. If this, in itself, does not raise questions as to whom this reporter is heavily biased towards– maybe even be on their payroll – then let’s continue with our fact checking. 

Fact Check 2: The CNN team flaunts all standard operating procedures set out by the host government regarding where they can travel and which areas are too dangerous to travel to. That aside, when they are stopped at a roadblock by Ethiopian soldiers, they switch on their covert cameras and record the exchange between the soldiers manning the roadblock and themselves. It is made clear to them that they cannot proceed further without a permit and they have to get it from the regional commander. So far so good except that in most countries including the US, wherever there is a directive to not use video filming equipment and you use it, you are arrested (a case in point, when you are arriving at US Customs and Immigration). So why was the CNN team flaunting local rules and regulations? Are they not supposed to operate within the rules and guidelines? Wouldn’t the Ethiopian government be fully justified if they kicked out the CNN office from Ethiopia because of the irresponsible actions of this team? Then, of course, they would cry foul and list the government as being anti-free press, etc. etc. 

Fact Check 3: The CNN team reports about an exchange of fire which resulted in the death of several innocent civilians. By their own reporting, and quickly glossed over, the exchange started because a grenade was thrown at the soldiers from within the “civilian” group! But there is absolutely no condemnation of the perpetrators of this crime of using innocent civilians as a human shield. Instead, the focus is purely on the reaction of those that were cowardly attacked. Doesn’t this show heavy bias? 

Fact Check 4: The team then visits a hospital and proceeds to interview victims of atrocities allegedly perpetuated by Eritrean soldiers. In a conflict in which there are at least five different military entities involved, it begs to ask why it is only Eritrean soldiers that are always accused of atrocities. Doesn’t it sound biased and coordinated, to say the least? But let’s get back to the hospital. One of the victims alleges that she was raped by the Eritreans. Rape is a terrible crime against anyone, and rapists should be brought to trial and dealt with severely. To use the suffering of another person who has just gone through the ordeal of rape for political mileage is just as hideous as denying that person’s rape. Whilst the CNN reporter asks the woman who raped her, she doesn’t bother to ask her how she could be sure that it was Eritreans that committed this crime. Did she see their ID cards? Were they wearing the ubiquitous “Congo” sandals, etc. etc.? A serious crime and an equally serious allegation needs to be thoroughly investigated in as much as is possible. So why stop there? Was it for sympathy to the victim? If so, why did she even ask her who did it? Why open her wounds and ignore them once her political agenda was fulfilled? 

Fact Check 5: In the same hospital, the CNN team film soldiers walking in and out of the hospital. They then allege that the soldiers can walk in and around at will and that they are harassing patients. However, there is no evidence of this provided and we just have to take their words for it. All we saw was a soldier in uniform walking into a hospital. Since when have soldiers, in a war-zone no less, been banned from entering a hospital? When has it become an atrocity for a soldier to enter a hospital compound? Isn’t this a spin that the CNN team wanted to put to the story to prove their own political agenda? They then show another soldier running to somewhere we don’t know. For all we know, he might be running an errand for a fellow soldier or he might just be rushing back to his unit. But, no, to the CNN team he “saw them filming and he fled”. No proof that he even noticed them, nothing. We just have to take our reporter at her word. 

Fact Check 6: The team finally comes to the checkpoint allegedly manned by Eritrean troops who are barring the way to enter the city of Axum. Let’s go back to the scene where the team was stopped by the Ethiopian soldiers. The team did not have an issue with recording the exchange of words between them and the soldiers manning the road block. We clearly hear them talking and there is no doubt that they are Ethiopian soldiers. Fast forward to the roadblock outside Axum: we are told, in the words of the reporter, that they are a “rag tag unit of Eritrean soldiers” some of them wearing “old style Ethiopian army uniforms” and others their distinct Eritrean Army uniforms. The first question that begs to be asked is if the Eritreans wanted to pass off as Ethiopian soldiers, you would think they would don the new, current Ethiopian uniforms wouldn’t they? Secondly, how did the CNN team know they were Eritreans? What language did they speak with them? The telling point is in the next fact: the CNN team conveniently does not reveal what was said between them and the people manning that check-point! There is no audio – only the dubbing from the reporter which was added later. Why? If they had both cameras – overt and open – operating and they were able to record all previous audio at each and every road block they encountered, why did they not make that particular audio track available in the video? The answer is simple: it would then have been easy to determine what nationality the people manning the road block were! Perhaps they were members of the Amhara militia and they were speaking in Amharic. But Eritrean soldiers don’t speak Amharic! So, we conveniently don’t get to hear them! Also, the reporter, although from Sudan, is actually claiming that she can, by just looking at people, know who is Eritrean and who is Ethiopian! The European immigration authorities, in their arrogance, over the last ten to fifteen years thought they could too and finally admitted that you can’t! All we have is an audio-less film clip and then a still from that clip of a group of men and we are told they are Eritreans. Ask anybody who is Eritrean or Ethiopian to look at the photo and determine what their nationality is! The answer is they can be either! But, we have to take the words of the award-winning CNN journalist because she knows more about us than we do about ourselves! 

In conclusion, such shoddy, politically-motivated and heavily-biased reporting only confirms CNN as a peddler of fake news as the former president repeatedly pointed out. The Ethiopian government would do best to kick out CNN and other fake news peddlers from within its border as they don’t deserve to be on the ground if they are churning out such TPLF-initiated propaganda. There was no objectivity in the report – the team went in with the sole intent of besmirching all parties to the conflict except the one group that is fully responsible for the tragedy that Tigray Region finds itself in today – the TPLF – but CNN would have us believe that they are the victims and not otherwise. 

As always, the truth, not CNN, will prevail. 

Yafet Zerou

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