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CNN’s Biased Reporting on Ethiopia’s Conflict Screams for an Independent Investigation

By Yonas Biru, PhD 

In April 2021, a former US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs confided to me in an  email  message  that  he  has  been  “warned that  the Tigrayan  People’s Liberation  Front (TPLF) is  financing some journalists who are making the Tigray situation look much worse than it is.”  

Whether TPLF is financing international journalists to systematically vilify the Ethiopian government  is difficult to verify. But one thing is for sure. CNN persistently peddles false narratives about genocidal  crimes  and  the  use  of  rape  and  starvation  as  weapons  of  war, knowing  full  well  they  are  unsubstantiated.  Evidently,  CNN  also  has  a hear-no-evil,  see-no-evil,  speak-no-evil  policy  when  it  comes to atrocities committed by the TPLF.  

This is not to say Ethiopian forces have not been accused of atrocities. A joint UN and Ethiopian Human  Rights Commission (EHRC) report has documented both Ethiopian and TPLF forces have committed  “serious abuses and violations of human rights” and there are “reasonable grounds to believe that a  number of these violations may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.” 

The  laxity  of  CNN’s  adherence  to  strict  code  of  journalistic  conduct and  lack  of  impartiality  in  its  coverage of Ethiopia’s war cannot be reviewed in isolation. To have a grasp of the full picture, one needs  to pay close attention to TPLF’s sophisticated misinformation campaign that is aided by international  media consultants and lobbying powerhouses.  

How TPLF deceived Amnesty International serves as a classic case of the power of misinformation. On  26 February 2021, Amnesty International issued a report on atrocities committed in Axum, a historic  city in the Tigray tribal land based on “41 survivors and 20 witnesses with knowledge of the events.”  The report stated: “Eritrean troops fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray state systematically killed hundreds of  unarmed civilians in the northern city of Axum on 28-29 November 2020, opening fire in the streets  and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity.” 

Mr. Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa characterized the  evidence  as  “compelling  and  points  to  a  chilling  conclusion.”  Not  long  after,  on  March  17,  Joanne  Mariner, Director of crisis response  for Amnesty International, investigating war crimes, repudiated  the “compelling evidence” as “incorrect as to the date and as to the circumstances.” 

When 41 survivors and 20 witnesses narrate the same story to the minute details that proved to be  false, it is  hard  to avoid  the  conclusion  that  the  story was  scripted and  rehearsed for international  organizations consumption.  

One would  think CNN could learn  from Amnesty  International’s humiliating lesson. Sadly, watching  CNN’s reports on  the current conflict in Ethiopia is witnessing a gross violation of basic journalistic  code of conduct. TPLF exaggerated if not fabricated claims are taken on face value and peddled to the  international public without verification, triangulation, or circumscription of the report as unverified 

by independent parties.  

Far  from  verification  and  circumscription  of unsubstantiated claims,  CNN  eagerly  takes  every  accusation  against  the  Ethiopian  government  to build  a  narrative  of  “evidence  of  a  methodical  campaign, one which bears all the hallmarks of genocide as defined by international law.” 

In some cases, CNN resorts to shenanigan fraud, elevating unsubstantiated claims as an additional piece of evidence to complete its genocidal claim jigsaw puzzle. In one case, CNN used bullet castings that  family members of Tigrayan victims sent to it as material evidence of genocide. To give credence to the  story, CNN sent the alleged evidence to forensic experts for analysis and got confirmation that the bullet  casings were from weapons that “the Ethiopian government would use.” 

The fact that Ethiopian and TPLF forces use the same weapons, and the bullet castings could be from  TPLF was of no concern to CNN. There was no confirmation that the castings shelled the bullets that  killed the alleged victims. This, too, was of no concern to CNN. 

To thicken the plot, the use of rape  as a weapon of war was alleged based on one interview a CNN  reporter had with a Tigryan doctor. The doctor alleged Tigrayan women were being raped  to  force  them  to  “change  their [ethnic]  identity”  as  part  of the  Ethiopian  government’s  campaign  of  ethnic  cleansing. According to the CNN reporter, the doctor believed that the reported rapes were not a result  of “ill disciplined” soldiers, but rather a systemic use of rape as a weapon of “cleansing of the bloodline”  of Tigrayans. According to CNN’s report, every woman and girl who was being raped was told the act  was to humiliate her and make her change her identity. 

The CNN reporter went on to say: “This is what gives this a hallmark of genocide. That is what gives  this a hallmark of ethnic cleansing rather than just an unfortunate consequence of war.” Once the story  of “cleansing of the bloodline” of Tigrayans was framed the next step was inflating the number of rape  victims.     

The doctor told CNN that the total number of rapes that were “reported” to him were “less than 10.” However,  he “suspects” the  number is “potentially in  thousands” in  the area  he was operating. His  “suspicion is based on the injury [he was] presented with.” It defies logic how the doctor extrapolated the number of rape victims to thousands based on the severity or the nature of the wounds of less than 10 rape victims he examined. 

What  makes  the  whole  thing  ludicrous  is  the  assertion  that  CNN’s  report  is  substantiated  by its  “extraordinary team working inside Tigray.” CNN does not have office in Tigray. It is well known that  TPLF  was  established  by the Marxist Leninist League of Tigray (MLLT). Leaders of MLLT fancied  themselves as followers and later heirs of Enver Hoxha, the supreme leader of Albanian Communism. Their  manifesto makes it clear that they chose Enver Hoxa’s genre of communism because of its strict control of not  only over party members but also over the general populace. Given TPLF’s total control of every aspect of  life in Tigray, CNN’s “extraordinary team” can only come from TPLF recruited or controlled locals. We  have a case of the accuser investigating the accused on behalf of CNN.  

In a total rebuke of CNN’s unprofessional if not commissioned report, Foreign Policy brought to light a  leaked telephone conversation transcript in which several UN officials who are stationed in Ethiopia  agreed there was no evidence to substantiate rape being perpetrated as a weapon of war.  

The  UN  Representative  for  African  Union  (AU)  and  UN  Economic  Commission  for  Africa  (ECA)  characterized  such  allegations  as  “media  hype.” Similarly,  the  UN  Population  Fund  (UNPF)  representative found it “very sensationalist.” She added: “I have woken up to messages from journalists  that they are going to go out with a report on how Safe Houses that are supported by the UNFPA, where  we  protect women and girls  that  have  been  victims  of  sexual  violence  ‘have  been  raided  by armed  forces’ in Ethiopia. I do not know any safe houses that have been raided by anyone.”   

Another  systemic  accusation  that  CNN  repeated  many  times  is  the  “deliberate  blockade  of  food,”  putting  the people  of Tigray at  risk  of  “mass  starvation.” To  the contrary, a joint UN and Ethiopian Human  Rights  Commission  report “could  not  confirm  deliberate  or  willful  denial  of  humanitarian  assistance to the civilian population in Tigray or the use of starvation as a weapon of war.” 

Furthermore, CNN took proactive steps, using unnamed “experts” to criminalize a perfectly legal action  by  the  Ethiopian  government.  In  one  case  it  accused  the  Ethiopian  government  of  violating  international aviation law for allegedly using Ethiopian Airlines planes to transport military personnel  and armaments.  

CNN’s own aviation experts unequivocally rejected CNN’s assertion. They emphasized the Ethiopian  government  owns  the  Ethiopian  Airlines  and  can  decide  whether  to  use  it  for  civilian  or  military  purposes. They went further to note countries around the world routinely use their Airlines for military  purposes in times of emergency or war.  

CNN did not have to consult experts on this. They could have googled it. According to the Smithsonian  Magazine, During World War II, American airlines (aircraft, cargo, and personnel) not only “worked  closely with the military to further the war effort,” they were also “placed under the control of the Air  Transport  Command.”  Unlike  the  Ethiopian  Airlines  that  is  owned  by  the  government,  American  airlines were privately owned.  

The World War II was not an exception. During the Iraq war 10 private airlines and 14 cargo carriers  were contracted to  fly troops and equipment to  Iraq and neighboring countries. CNN does not  even need Google. CNN itself was touting  the militarization  of  the  airlines as  patriotic  duty.  In  one  report the headline read: “Military and civilian worlds meet at airport.” The message was “You may not  like the war but do like the warrior.” 

There is  no plausible explanation for  CNN’s  zeal  to  damage  the  Ethiopian  airlines  other  than  TPLF official advocate’s publicly expressed desire to destroy the Airlines and have its membership with Star  Alliance revoked.  

CNNS’  transgressions  do  not  stop  with  peddling  false  and  fabricated  claims  against  the  Ethiopian  government and its business interests as shown with the Ethiopia Airlines. Its deafening silence about  atrocities committed by TPLF is far worse in terms of ignoring potential crimes against humanity.  

When the war was fought in Tigray proper, CNN gave a blanket coverage to the atrocities committed  by Ethiopian  forces, often sensationalizing and exaggerating it. After TPLF became  the aggressor in  June 2021 and the war moved from Tigray to Amhara and Afar regions, CNN adopted a hear-no-evil,  see-no-evil,  speak-no-evil  policy. Simply  put,  CNN’s  zeal  to  accuse  the  Ethiopian  government  of  genocide is matched by its devotion to turn a blind eye to TPLF’s gross atrocities.  

TPLF’s  crime  against  humanity  in  the  Amhara  and  Afar  region  is  documented  by  the  Amnesty  International  as “despicable  acts  that  amount  to  war  crimes  and  defy  any  iota  of  humanity.”  The  Organization for World Peace, reported TPLF’s crimes against humanity include using “child soldiers  for the purpose of human shields against attacks.”  

Article 36, section 1d of Ethiopia’s Constitution promulgates that children shall “be protected against  exploitative practices, and not to be permitted to engage in any employment which would prejudice  [their] health, education or well-being.” The minimum age for voluntary or compulsory recruitment to  join the military cohort in Ethiopia is 18.  

The  President  of  Tigray  and  Chairman  of  the  TPLF  Debretsion  Gebremichael  is  on  the  record,  announcing every Tigrayan “starting from children” will fight in the war. TPLF spokesperson Getachew 

Reda justified recruiting 17 years old children, stating “these are children whose parents have been  subjected to untold suffering” in the hands of Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara forces. A captured TPLF  military  leader  put  the  age  range  of  TPLF  fighters  between  14/15  to  64/65.  Even  worse,  he  acknowledged, of the 1400 forces he was leading, 800 were armed and 600 were unarmed. These are  children used as human shields.  

Between  1988  and  2004,  when  Joseph  Kony of  the  Ugandan  Lord’s  Resistance  Army  used  30,000  Ugandan child soldiers, CNN was at the forefront of the media condemning Kony as a “Brutal warlord.”  In 1995, CNN characterized ISIS’s use of child soldiers in Iraq and Syria as “stomach churning.” CNN’s  lack  of  reaction  to  TPLF’s  use  of  child  soldiers who  are  dying  in  tens  of  thousands can  only  be  characterized as a “deafening criminal silence.”  

TPLF’s  crime is  not limited  to  using  child  soldiers  and  raping women in  Amhara  and  Afar  regions.  Destruction of properties and looting of any movable object  from hospitals, schools, businesses and  small shops is part of its war strategy.   

According  to Euro Asia Review, The USAID is  on  the  record, acknowledging “Tigrayan  forces looted  USAID warehouses in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.” USAID mission Director Sean Jones stated: “We do  have  proof  that  several  of  our  warehouses  have  been looted  and  completely  emptied in  the  areas,  particularly in Amhara, where TPLF soldiers have gone into.”  

Furthermore, recently joint UN and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission report revealed Tigray forces  set up road blockades to delay the delivery of humanitarian relief to their own people. According to the  UN, TPLF confiscated 428 UN aid trucks to use them for transporting TPLF militia and weapons to the  war fronts.  

Sadly, CNN has done the international community a gross disservice by christening TPLF as a victim  and demonizing the Prime Minister Abiy’s administration with fabricated genocidal crime, including  using rape and starvation as weapons of war.  

The misinformation  has  reached  the  highest level  of the US government  hierarchy, as evidenced in  Senator Patrick Leahy’s recent claim of “genocide occurring in Tigray.” The Senator’s claim stands in  line with CNN’s reporting but contradicts UN’s report that stressed there is no evidence to support a  genocidal crime. 

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate that there is no evidence that CNN is corrupted by TPLF’s financial  incentives. However, there  is  something  systemic  about  it that  screams  aloud  for  an  independent  investigation. 

* The author is former Deputy Global Manager of the International Comparison Program. He was  also former Interim Chair of the Ethiopian Economic Advisory Council. He may be reached at

Editor’s note : The article was shared first on P2P Ethiopian Forum on December 2, 2021

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  1. Excellent article Exposing the western media coverage bias and the disgrace in journalism. CNN not meeting even the lowest standards of investigative journalism . They have been making fake news that was divisive to the Ethiopian people fueling tribal war.

    • Tibebu godelle

      Tegaru didn’t invade so called Amhara or Afar region, no invasion at all. Tegaru was leading and developing all cities and villages of these regions and the rest of regions in Ethiopia . They are not intruders nor foreign forces ? a boss enter his backyard and check his employees in their dwellings and punish those who were found guilty and do exhibit unethical and bad behavior. Likewise, TDFs are hunting criminals like you in your sinful and Blood Soaked Land of Menlik mujeliyam , coward who took the hard-earned victory of Oromos and Tegaru and claimed to be the sole warrior and single-handedly caused victory during the fight against Italian invaders.We will assure you the fact that they do not want and will not to stay longer in your blood soaked land.We didn’t even say Tigray was invaded until the very day we get to know Eritrea , UAE , Somali soldiers were involved in the war . Did you forget TPLF is your boss, trainer and changed your living condition ? We all know you are suffering from absent-mindedness, and you couldn’t remember those words of Abiy Amhed, habitual liar and peacocky , showy . You are denying the loss of our beloved people , but constantly telling us Amharas are massacred. If massacre is not perpetrated, how come the family members, neighbors and the rest have come to know and witness the loss of vast number of Tegaru ? Where did they go ? What happened to them ? Does your brain function as usual, or attacked by a virus invented at prosperity party’s genocidal lab ? Does inventing genocidal stories against TDF help you and your genocidal partners evade justice ? Making Tegaru accountable for your own genocide will not free Prosperity party and its supporters and sponsors from the massive killings they have committed and still committing ?

      You are condemning the White House, and all western countries which condemn your atrocities, rape and usage of rape and hunger as weapons, why should you go before them and supplicate them to absolve your war crimes ? If you condemn, insult and label him as a meddler who interfere in your internal affairs unduly and without your consent , you should not invite him or them to condemn TDF or TPLF? You are letting them interfere and take a side in your favor, being afraid of facing the consequences of your actions . You must visit a doctor . Genociders like you are widely known for their grave and deadly mental illness that provokes suicidal sentiments.

  2. I really believe that there are individuals in CNN who see Amharas and their collaborating Oromos are Anti-Semetics. There are others like them in New York Times, AFP, BBC, AP and Reuters. Just look at how they report the current conflict. They all describe it as if it is instigated and waged by those who hate a group of people. They picture the whole story as a war declared on a victim of hate. That is why they twist everything Abiy says to make it sound like a hate speech. When he tells his people they will win these media outlets cry foul accusing PM Abiy of preaching genocide. To them every murder and pillage by the TPLF is justified because it’s followers are Semitic language speakers who are victimized by hate groups. Those diplomacy savvy individuals among us should know this presence when dealing with these wind bags.

      • You and I know that but these fake reporters don’t highlight on that one. I was coming from one article on one of these media outlets I read at one time in the past describing the people in Tigray as speakers of a Semitic dialect and did not mention about Amharas, Gurages, Hararis, Argobas and others who speak Semitic dialects. They mentioned that just to drive their ill intended message that the current conflict is a war declared and being carried out by those who hate a group of people. I am not a linguist and I’m going by history books I have read so far.

  3. Tibebu, calm down. Just because you use the word “genocide” in every sentence does not mean it is the case. Stick to the facts on the ground and to the sequence of events as they actually unfolded. In 2018, Abiy Ahmed was elected as chairman of the EPRDF according to the internal rules your beloved TPLF drafted. He won that fair and square. Debrrtsion was mad. Debretsion, was constantly beating his suicidal war drums in 2018, claiming it would be a people to people war, that TPLF is indispensable, that Tigreans are masters of war. TPLF was financing battles against rest of Ethiopia and destabilizing people in Wollega, Ben Shangul, in Jimma, Somalia, Shoa, Wello. Boy you tried a lot. Remember, what that psychopath Debretsion used to say? With a repulsive and evil smirk on his face, gloves on his hand later in 2020, he would blabber that Tigray is the only peaceful “killil” in Ethiopia, that Abiy is not able to lead the country etc. Debretsion boasted everyday. That is no longer the case, now that he has been spanked well, all that bravado is gone, That is why, with your tiny tails between your legs, you scream of genocide. Your Sekoture is on video, clearly admitting that TPLF started the war by attacking the Northern command in what he called “mebrekawi tikkat”. Within 17 days, your TPLF was defeated on the battle field, your “generals” ran and hid in caves. You are neither brave, nor skilled in war. You are not ethical, not patriotic, not honest to yourselves, not religious. There is a huge character flow in the psych of TPLF leaders, members and followers. You have not treated our Tigrean brothers and sisters well either. Look at the abject poverty in the region. With hegemony of every sector of the Ethiopian economy, finance, military and every other sector for 27 years, you have still kept nearly 2 million people in Tigray on food safety margin zone. How do you explain that? For 50 years, you have been recipient of foreign food aid. When are you going to stand up on your own feet? Your claim of developing every region in Ethiopia is funny . Look at what you idiots did to Dire Dawa, look at what you did to Harar. You looted, embezzled, you killed massacred. Look at what you did in Gambella. And you have the nerve to come up and bark here? Just beat it. Get lost. Never, ever, try shoot your mouth loud here, Ethiopia is saying ENOUGH and Ethiopians are saying. ENOUGH. Beat it and take a hike,


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