The Media and the Rwanda Genocide

To be published in January 2007 by the International Development Research Centre and Pluto Press, this collection of papers examines the role of the news media in the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

It is widely held that most international news organizations initially misunderstood the nature of the killing in Rwanda, portraying it as the result of tribal warfare, rather than an organized genocide. There is some debate whether more informed and comprehensive coverage might have mitigated or even halted the killing by sparking an international outcry.

And there is abundant evidence that within Rwanda, hate radio broadcasts were instrumental in fanning the flames and implicating ordinary people in the extermination campaign. In December 2003, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda rendered a landmark guilty verdict in the so-called “media trial,’’ of three media executives in Rwanda.

At every turn we return to a troubling equation, one that implicates the news media - both within Rwanda, and internationally - in the genocide. This publication will, for the first time, examine both sides of this equation in tandem. It will include papers from such players as Lt.-Gen. (retired) Romeo Dallaire and from leading experts on the role of hate media in Rwanda, submissions from both the prosecutors and the defence lawyers in the celebrated “media trial,” and a powerful first-person account by a Rwandan journalist who refused to read out the hate radio scripts put in front of him and nearly paid with his life. The publication will also include original material from western journalists who were among a handful of outside observers on the ground during the genocide. It will also feature academic analysis of media coverage and papers that look forward to strategies for combating hate media and incitement and for using media as a tool for peace building.

The Media and the Rwanda Genocide is based in part on the proceedings of a symposium hosted by the Carleton University School of Journalism and Communication on March 13, 2004. But in addition to papers submitted to the symposium proceedings at the time by panelists and other experts who wanted to contribute to the debate, the collection will also include submissions from other experts, commissioned papers, and those published previously in academic journals.

Allan Thompson, the Journalism professor from Carleton who organized and chaired the symposium, has edited the papers submitted to the proceedings and commissioned and assembled other material for the publication. Here is a rough outline of the book’s contents, with brief descriptions of the authors and their submissions. The book will be arranged as follows:

UN secretary-general Kofi Annan delivered a statement to the symposium, which was added to the proceedings. The statement, dated March 13, 2004, will serve as a foreword to the book.


A brief preface by Allan Thompson, linking the book to the Media and the Rwanda Genocide symposium which took place at Carleton.


Prof. Thompson’s introduction to the collection, laying out the argument for looking at both domestic and international media in tandem when examining the role of news organizations in the Rwanda genocide. The introduction will provide a brief overview of the events leading to the Rwanda genocide and discuss the role of the media. It will also canvass some of the key literature on the subject and briefly introduce the papers to follow.


The Road to Genocide, by Gerald Caplan


Overview by Romeo Dallaire
In his paper, Dallaire speaks from the unique vantage point of a key player during the period, with firsthand knowledge of the role of the media, his failed attempts to shut down or jam the RTLM hate radio and his efforts to attract international media attention to the genocide in Rwanda.



Call to Genocide: Radios in Rwanda, 1994
Alison Des Forges, a panelist at the Carleton symposium, is senior adviser to Human Rights Watch’s Africa Division. She is also the author of Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda. Her paper will deal with the day-to-day impact of hate radio during the massacres and the failed attempt - of which she was part - to convince the U.S. to authorize jamming operations. (6,000 words)

RTLM Propaganda: the Democratic Alibi
Jean-Pierre Chretien, a panelist at the symposium, is a historian and one of the co-authors of Rwanda : Les Medias du Genocide. His paper focuses on the role of the hate radio station RTLM and traces its evolution in Rwandan society. (2,700 words)

Kangura: The triumph of propaganda refined
Marcel Kabanda, a panelist at the symposium, is a Rwandan historian and co-author of Rwanda: Les Medias du Genocide. His paper focuses on the role of print media and specifically the newspaper Kangura. (4,800 words)

The Status of Rwandan private print media on the eve
of the 1994 genocide

Jean-Marie Higiro, a discussant at the symposium, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Communication at Western New England College in Springfield, Mass. From July 31, 1993 to April 6, 1994, he was Director of the Rwandan Information Office (ORINFOR) in Kigali. His paper will examine the development of print media in Rwanda before the genocide. (9,000 words)

Echoes of violence: considerations on radio and genocide
in Rwanda

Darryl Li set out to explore the impact of RTLM on its listeners by interviewing dozens of Rwandans who were part of the RTLM audience and admitted to taking part in the genocide. His paper, based on three months of fieldwork conducted in Rwanda in 2000, integrates the perspectives and experiences of radio listeners with broader considerations about the study of the Rwandan genocide. (10,000 words)

RTLM: the mass media that became a tool for mass murder
Mary Kimani notes that the 1993 birth of Radio Television Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) could not have come at a better time for Rwanda’s Hutu elite. Finally here was a radio station they could use as a mouthpiece for their ideals, and to propagate their ethno-political war against the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front. And a detailed content analysis of recordings of RTLM broadcasts makes clear that individual broadcasters - not their guests or government officials - were most likely to use the airwaves to disseminate hate.

The effect of RTLM’s rhetoric of ethnic hatred in rural Rwanda
Charles Mironko - The purpose of this paper is to explore the relation between the rhetoric of ethnic hatred so prevalent among Rwandan political elites and the forces that propelled ordinary Rwandan Hutus to participate in killing Tutsis. Information was collected in conversations conducted in 2000 with nearly 100 confessed perpetrators held in six Rwandan prisons: Kigali, Butare, Rilima, Gitarama, Gisenyi and Ruhengeri.

Journalism in a time of hate media
Thomas Kamilindi, Thomas Kamilindi, a symposium panelist, is a former Radio Rwanda journalist, based in Kigali, who is now a correspondent for BBC in Rwanda. He resigned from state run radio in Rwanda a few months before the 1994 genocide started. He knew what was coming. As a journalist with a radio station run by the Hutu dominated government of President Juvenal Habyarimana he had sometimes been asked to broadcast news repugnant to him. Kamilindi was among the many liberal Hutus accused of sympathising with the Tutsi led rebel forces of the Rwandan Patriotic Front and narrowly escaped death during the genocide. (4,000 words)



Verdict - The summary of the verdict in the ‘media trial,’ before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is an important historical document which lays the groundwork for a section dealing with the prosecution of journalists.

The Pre-Genocide Case Against Radio Television
Libre des Milles Collines

Simone Monasebian, a panelist at the Carleton symposium, was a Trial Attorney with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and one of the prosecutors in the media trial. (she is now a defence lawyer in the Sierra Leone tribunal). Her paper focuses specifically on RTLM broadcasts prior to the April 6, 1994 plane crash that killed Rwanda’s president and launched the genocide. She argues that the world community had grounds to intervene well before RTLM used its broadcasts to goad on the killers after April 6. (9,000 words)

Challenges of prosecution of print journalism as incitement
to genocide

Charity Kagwi, a panelist at the symposium, is also a Trial Attorney with the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and was a prosecutor in the media trial. Kagwi’s paper deals with the difficulty of prosecuting the crime of incitement to genocide in print media. The challenge is how to counter war propaganda and speeches in the future that jeopardize the lives of minority groups. The paper examines some parameters laid down in the international law and especially in the land mark media trial on the responsibility of the media and journalists, and their role in the crimes committed in conflict situations. (5,000 words)

“Hate Media”, Crimes Against Humanity, and Genocide: Opportunities Missed by the International Criminal Tribunal
for Rwanda

Jean-Marie Biju Duval, a panelist at the symposium, is a Paris-based lawyer who has been engaged since September, 1996 as the defence counsel for Ferdinand Nahimana, the former Rwandan media executive who as convicted in the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda’s media trial. His paper takes issue with the legal arguments that were central to the guilty verdict in the media trial. (8,000 words)

A lost opportunity for justice: why did the ICTR not prosecute gender propaganda?
Binaifer Nowrojee, a symposium panelist, is currently counsel with the Africa division of Human Rights Watch and author of Shattered Lives: Sexual Violence during the Rwandan Genocide and its Aftermath. Her paper focuses on the direct link between the sexually graphic and offensive depiction of Tutsi women in the pages of Kangura before the genocide and the brutal sexual violence and rape that became a stock in trade of the killers during the genocide. (4,000 words)



Reporting the Genocide
Mark Doyle, a symposium panelist, has worked for the BBC since 1986 and in 1994 spent much of the period of the genocide in Rwanda. He was on several occasions during the genocide the only foreign reporter in Kigali. His paper takes the reader through the first days of the genocide through the eyes of a reporter and also contains many examples of verbatim transcripts of Doyle’s crucial broadcasts from Rwanda in the midst of the killing. He discusses his own deliberations over when, and how to use the word genocide to describe what was going on around him. (7,700 words)

Who failed in Rwanda, journalists or the media?
Anne Chaon, a symposium panelist, is a journalist with Agence France Presse, who is now based in Paris. In the first weeks of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, Chaon was based in Paris, working on AFP's Africa desk. Then she reported from Rwanda for AFP in June, before heading to eastern Zaire in July of that year. She has testified against RTLM media executive Ferdinand Nahimana in Paris (during the Nahimana vs Le Nouvel Observateur court proceeding in May 1999) and before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, in the media trial. Her paper takes issue with the conventional wisdom that individual journalists missed the story in Rwanda and instead, argues that journalists did the best they could under the circumstances and that the problem was that readers and decision makers didn’t care about a tiny country in Africa. (3,100 words)

Reporting Rwanda: the media and the aid agencies
Lindsey Hilsum - As one of only two western journalists who was on the ground in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, Hilsum is in a unique position to describe media coverage of the genocide and the disproportionate attention paid in July and August to the plight of Hutu refugees who had fled to Goma. (5,000 words)

What did they say? African media coverage of the first 100 days of the Rwandan crisis
Emmanuel C. Alozie, professor of media communication at Governors State University, Illinois, examines coverage of the genocide in two major African media outlets, the Daily Nation in Nairobi and The Guardian, in Lagos.

American Media and Genocide in Rwanda
Steven Livingston, symposium panelist, is Associate Professor of Political Communication and International Affairs at the George Washington University (GWU) in Washington, D.C. His paper analyzes American television coverage of the genocide. (4,000 words)

Missing the Story: The Media and the Rwandan Genocide
Linda Melvern, a symposium panelist, is an investigative journalist and author of A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide and Conspiracy to Murder. The Rwandan Genocide. Her paper argues that international media contributed directly to the genocide by misconstruing the killing in the first weeks as spontaneous, tribal warfare rather than a systematic campaign to exterminate a minority. (6,000 words)

Exhibit 467
Nick Hughes is the British television journalist who shot the only known media footage of a killing taking place during the genocide. Hughes later testified as an expert witness during one of the trials before the Rwanda tribunal. One section of the transcript of his testimony is reproduced here as a record of the role he played as a journalist in recording the Rwanda genocide.

Media failure over Rwanda's genocide
Tom Giles, who was a BBC producer in Rwanda in 1994, has submitted a piece about his personal reflections as a journalist in Rwanda during the genocide. It was originally published by the BBC during the 10th anniversary commemorations in 2004. (1,600 words)

A genocide without images: white film noires
Edgar Roskis, a French journalist, wrote an influential article in Le Monde Diplomatique in the autumn of 1994 - “un genocide sans image: blancs film noir - making the case that the lack of media images from the Rwanda genocide ultimately influenced the tepid international response. The piece is published here for the first time in translation.

Notes on Circumstances that Facilitate Genocide: the Attention given to Rwanda by the Media and Others outside Rwanda
before 1990

Mike Dottridge was a desk officer with Amnesty International at the time of the genocide. His paper, submitted to the symposium proceedings, focuses on the fact that so little attention has been paid to events in Rwanda before the genocide, particularly in the late 1980s and between 1990 and 1994, despite abundance evidence of unrest. His paper situates the three-and-a-half years of inaction, as RTLM broadcast its messages of hate, in a broader context in which journalists and others based outside Rwanda share responsibility for this inaction. (2,700 words)

The Rwandan genocide and how the press missed the story.
A memoir.

Richard Dowden, who was Africa editor for the British newspaper The Independent in 1994, writes a personal memoir that begins his own experience as a journalist covering Africa at the time and then goes on to examine some of the early coverage of the genocide that appeared in Britain’s press. (3,800 words)

How the media missed Rwandan genocide.
Alan J. Kuperman is Resident Assistant Professor of International Relations at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Bologna Center, Johns Hopkins University. His paper, which first appeared in the International Press Institute Report, Vol. 6, No. 1, 2000, argues that international media were guilty of several key lapses: they mistook the killing for a resumption of the civil war, grossly underestimated the death counts, they left en masse at a critical moment, and those who remained focused almost exclusively on Kigali. (1,500 words)

The Rwanda Crisis: An Analysis of News Magazine Coverage
Melissa Wall, a journalism professor at California State University, Northridge, analyzed news magazine coverage of the genocide and discovered several disturbing themes in coverage: that the Rwandan violence was the result of irrational tribalism, that Rwandan people were little better than animals, that the violence was incomprehensible, that neighbouring countries were just as violent and that only the west was capable of solving Rwanda’s problems. (7,300 words)


PART FOUR: After the Genocide and the way forward

The Roots of Genocidal Violence: the Media in Incitement and Prevention of Genocide
Frank Chalk, a symposium panelist, is co-director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies and co-author of The History and Sociology of Genocide: Analyses and Case Studies. His paper makes blunt recommendations for aggressive intervention in situations where media are being abused. (1,300 words)

The Hirondelle Experirence
Philippe Dahinden, a symposium panelist, is a Swiss journalist who was co-founder and former editor in chief of the Hirondelle Foundation, an international organisation of journalists which establishes media operations in crisis areas. His paper focuses on his experience founding and managing the independent radio station Radio Agatashya, which covered Rwanda, Burundi and the Kivu after July 1994 in an attempt to counter the destructive messages of hate radio and led to the creation of the Hirondelle Foundation. (4,000 words)

Use and Abuse of Media in Vulnerable Societies
Mark Frohardt, a symposium panelIst, is Africa Regional Director for Internews and former Deputy Chief of Mission for the United Nations Human Rights Field Operation in Rwanda (May 1995 to June 1997). His paper describes a groundbreaking analysis on the role of media in vulnerable societies, which are defined as societies highly susceptible to movement towards civil conflict and/or repressive rule. This often describes societies in developing countries and countries in transition. (7,200 words)

Censorship and propaganda in post-genocide Rwanda
Lars Waldorf, a former Human Rights Watch staffer in Rwanda and now a Harvard fellow, writes about how, ten years on, an increasingly authoritarian regime in Rwanda continues to justify censorship and propaganda as a necessary safeguard against the recrudescence of genocide. (6,300 words)

PG Genocide
Michael Dorland, a journalism professor at Carleton University, in Ottawa, writes about the place of the Rwanda genocide in popular culture, with particular reference to the new film Hotel Rwanda. Dorland, an expert on the Holocaust film genre, reflects on what happens to the "Holocaust" film genre when the subjects are not Jewish and engages in a comparative discussion of some scenes from Holocaust films, Cambodia and Rwanda, turning on the problems (for filmmkers) of re-presenting something that invariably took place "off-screen." (5,000 words approx.)

Epilogue - by Allan Thompson




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