Criticism of mainstream media in Sunday’s fatal Ethiopian Airlines crash has centered on the coverage of victims, all of whom died in the tragedy. In particular, scrutiny on social media pointed to how some major news outlets seemed to prioritize victims who were not African nationals, while other media falsely suggested that the African airline was sub-par.
In one example, a tweet posted by the Associated Press appeared to suggest a “hierarchy of value” of the victims’ lives based on their nationalities.
While the tweet did mention Egyptians, albeit last among eight nationalities listed, it failed to include Kenya, where most of the fateful flight’s victims were from.
“Even in death you are going to introduce a hierarchy of value? Or it’s just an oversight or we should take for granted there were Africans on the flight?” one Twitter user said in part.
Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 was bound for Nairobi, Kenya, but crashed shortly after takeoff from Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. All 157 people on board were killed.
The plane was carrying passengers from more than 30 different countries, according to Reuters. There were 32 Kenyans on board. Canada had the next largest number of nationals at 18, followed by Ethiopia with nine. Other victims’ nationalities spanned the African continent, from Mozambique and Rwanda to Sudan and Somalia.
Investigators retrieved the flight data recorder and the cockpit voice recorder from the wreckage on Monday but had not yet determined the cause of the crash. Still, many mainstream media reports suggested the airline was shoddy despite evidence to the contrary.
“I’ve flown @flyethiopian many times over the last decade. In fact, my first flight on a 787 Dreamliner was on an #Ethiopian flight (I was so excited I snapped this pic!). I’m dismayed that American media is covering this as though #EthiopianAirlines is a low-budget carrier,” noted economist Karl Muth tweeted.
The probable blame for the crash, however, was Boeing, the airplane’s manufacturer, which also came under scrutiny after the crash. Sunday’s Ethiopian Airlines crash was similar to the Lion Air crash off the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, killing all 189 people on board in October.
Beyond that, Ethiopian Airlines is a state-owned company that’s recognized as one of the continent’s most successful carriers. It has been flying since 1946.
It’s also Africa’s largest airline in terms of destinations and passengers served. The last major accident occurred in 2010 when an aircraft crashed into the Mediterranean shortly after takeoff from Beirut, killing all 90 people on board.
Industry experts have rated Ethiopian Airlines as one of the best on the continent. Indeed, John Cox an aviation safety consultant, named Ethiopian Airlines and South African Airways as two of the best, despite the challenges faced by Africa’s aviation industry.
“Some operators use older airplanes and the maintenance is not up to global standards. The environment can be problematic and some airports on the continent lack good infrastructure. These elements in combination result in a higher accident rate than in other parts of the world. Despite these challenges, aviation safety in Africa has improved over the years,” Cox wrote September 2018 in USA Today.