A YouTube link is circulating on social media which purports to be leaked audio of the Prime Minister addressing a Prosperity Party executive committee meeting on May 27. Kello Media released the audio with English subtitles on May 31. The audio has gone viral gaining traction in particular on Facebook and YouTube.

HaqCheck is urgently investigating this content since it started to spread on social media.

Kello Media is an online media outlet based in Washington, D.C. in the US and is known for being a trenchant critic of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s administration. It has 310,247 followers on Facebook.

Following the released video on May 31, the Prime Minister’s Office issued a strong rebuttal on Facebook describing the segment as a “fake audio compilation”. The statement said that the file had “been put together by drawing on different remarks made by the Prime Minister and editing it into one compilation”. 

It went on: “In this era of disinformation and as the elections draw nearer, we urge citizens to be vigilant about such types of disinformation campaigns aimed at creating discord.” 

The Prosperity Party also issued a statement on Facebook on June 1 stating that the leaked audio file was not real and had been fabricated to mislead the public. The Party, which is campaigning ahead of a planned general election on June 21,  also claimed that the audio file had been spliced together from different speeches Prime Minister Abiy had made at different times.

 The following paragraphs on the YouTube video were given as English subtitles to the purported leaked audio clip of the Prime Minister.

“On our part we will do whatever is possible to make sure that there are no irregularities in the upcoming election. As you know the Prosperity Party was the main party that for a variety of reasons favored postponing the scheduled national election last year. Overall it is hard to imagine what would have happened if the coronavirus did not occur and the election had proceeded as scheduled.

This time, we consider holding the election as the most favorable option for us to avert a situation worse than last year. It must be stressed that the so-called politicians including activists are striving to take overpower. Because of this our political operatives must take extra precautions in whatever they do.

We must constantly evaluate and quickly correct even a small gaffe or a minor misstep. Even a single foul play is dangerous. What alarms me is the fact that there are more politicians, more political forces media outlets than you can imagine who are contesting the elections to wrest power.

They are everywhere, near and far. No one will be able to form a government in the coming ten years. I would rather die than hand over power to them. We will take action. The taskforce we established has already commenced the work. As a result, there will be a high level of death and bloodshed. Regardless, I can tell you this with certainty and there is no doubt or mystery about it: we have won the election, we have won it easily. 

We now have great responsibility to prevent an election [that may produce a different result] and make sure that our competitors also lose hope in it. Compared to the challenges we have come through thus far, it should not be difficult to succeed in this endeavor. I believe we must redouble our efforts to prevent our only resource to success from slipping away.”

Haqcheck’s mission

HaqCheck has highlighted how manipulated content is a significant weapon in disseminating disinformation, particularly during election campaigns. Our mission is to educate the public on how manipulated and fabricated files and content can be identified from real ones.

Manipulated videos, audio and images have been around for years, but the rise of artificial intelligence and advanced editing software has made them much harder to recognize. 

Audio manipulation is like using Photoshop on people’s voices. This kind of manipulation can be executed in two main ways:

Cheapfakes: These are audio-visuals that are altered using classical video editing tools like editing dubbing, speeding up or slowing down, cutting or splicing together different scenes to change context. They do not use AI-enabled tools. 

Deepfakes: These are altered or generated audio-visuals using artificial intelligence, neural networks and machine learning. This type of content-synthesis technology enables media representations of non-existent subjects as well as subjects doing or saying things they’ve never done or said. Digital cloning also allows one to manipulate existing media to be hyper-realistic. 

According to a publication by the DeepTrust Alliance, cheapfakes are by far the largest threat in the current digital world.

When it comes to verifying whether audio is real or fake there is a lack of tools. But, even though it is a bit hard to recognize manipulated audios with just the ears, it’s not impossible. 

Some tools are being developed to fill the gap. Poynter, a leading journalism institute and owner of the International Fact-Checking Network, has written about a piece of software called Forensia. 

Developed in Argentina in 2019, Forensia helps to debunk fake WhatsApp audio files, but it is applicable only for WhatsApp and it works in limited languages. It also charges to be used.

In general, when one is listening for a potentially manipulated audio, here’s what to take note of. The first, crucial step is to pay attention to tell-tale details and clues. 

Listen carefully to the timing (the gap between each word), a frequent voice-tone change, unfinished words and unvoiced letters (mostly consonant), unnecessary whine, and background voices. 

The next step is then to look for the original source of the audio ( using traditional ways like tracing back previous speeches on related topics or events); especially when it is a suspected cheap fake. It helps to cross-check the words and even understand the original context of the media. Therefore, as mentioned above, since there is a shortage of tools to verify the authenticity of audio files, a verdict couldn’t be given on the matter. 

The audio clip released by Kello Media contains many words and phrases from a previous speech by PM Abiy Ahmed (PhD) during a Prosperity Party Executive Committee meeting held on April 22. 

The disputed Amharic audio has 174 words in total. This file comprises 66 words, eight phrases, and three sentences from the video clip of the Prime Minister’s April 22 meeting which was first published on Fana Television’s YouTube channel.

Due to the shortage of instant fact-checking and verification tools and technologies for videos and audios, HaqCheck cannot conclude whether the claimed-leaked audio clip is fabricated or authentic. HaqCheck has cross-checked the possible audio compilation and recommends the public be extremely cautious of this kind of disputed content. Haqcheck, which has been investigating these claims since they emerged in the last 24 hours, will continue to probe.

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