The Role of Media - Media Essay Example

During the Rwandan genocide in 1994, Hutu extremists killed nearly 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus - The Role of Media introduction. There are many causes of the clearest genocide since the Holocaust. Western policies take on part of the guilt, even since colonial times. Power hungry leaders and officials had found themselves in a perfect situation to spread hatred, with a helping hand of the media. Rwandan media even incited the massive slaughter of Tutsis, whereas international media showed disinterest in the event.

There was a lack of international media coverage, and the journalists that were present misrepresented the facts, creating confusion in the Western world about what was happening. It made the situation seem less important, which was convenient for the Western policymakers that were unwilling to intervene. Journalism, however, can have a positive effect on war and conflict. By using peace journalism, rather than war journalism, the focus of attention is drawn to creative, non-violent options that promote peace.


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The media, like so many others in Rwanda, failed. The world powers failed. Individually we failed. ” — Romeo Dallaire, head of UN mission to Rwanda The 1994 Rwandan genocide is one of the most cruel and outrageous events in recent human history. During this period, the darkest in the small African country, media did not do anything in order to stop the genocide. In fact, the major Rwandan media even encouraged the mass killings. Hindsight, the media and the international community are said to have failed by solely standing and watching it happen.

What the reasons for this lack of media coverage is, how media contributed to the Rwandan genocide, and how media can contribute to a peaceful international society, is what this paper attempts to answer. Rwandan Genocide In only 100 days of genocide, nearly 1 million Rwandans had been killed, and nearly 2 million Rwandans sought refugees in neighboring countries. Extremist Hutus picked up their weapons and machetes, and attempted to kill all Tutsis and moderate Hutus. They spoke the same language and originated from the same country, but throughout history they had become different ethnic groups that eventually became to hate each other. 1]

The United States of America was anti-intervention in this period, due to the scandal in Somalia a year earlier. American soldiers were killed and their bodies were paraded through the streets, to set an example for other ‘intruders’ of their country. The USA therefore said not to intervene anymore in a situation where they did not have interests. Rwanda was such a place. The only exception for this new policy was in case of genocide. The US was therefore very hesitant using the word genocide, as they were not happy to intervene in an African country again.

Only after most of the killing was done, in June, the US government started using the word genocide. [2] There were UN troops on Rwandan ground before the genocide started, and shortly after it started. However, the troops were sent back, because the Western world did not want to be involved in ‘another African tribal war’. There are three main Western policies, which significantly contributed to the evolvement of the Rwandan genocide. Firstly, in the colonial times, Belgium divided the Rwandan citizens in two groups: Hutus and Tutsis.

This classification of human beings has continued to exist since the end of the colonial times until the present. The Rwandans had their classification imprinted in their identity cards, and together with the hatred of ‘us’ against ‘them’, these were all tools necessary for violence between two groups. [3] Secondly, French (and South African) governments supported the Hutu leaders and their followers by providing them with arms and weapons, which they used to kill Tutsis. [4] There was no international media coverage on this at all.

Finally, the IMF and World Bank and their policies have contributed to the Rwandan genocide. They wanted to stop the international financial support to Rwanda, by forcing economic policies on the Rwandan government, which eliminated all economic safety nets for citizens. This became a problem in the 1980s when the coffee market collapsed, of which most Rwandans live, and resulted in impoverishment. [5] In prosperous times, hatred and war are less likely to happen than in a situation of poverty. That is why power hungry leaders found themselves in a perfect situation to spread aversion. War vs.

Peace Journalism War journalism has a bias towards violence and conflict, and provides the audience with mainly violent solutions to a problem, neglecting non-violent options. When reporting a conflict between two parties, war journalism discusses the differences between the parties, rather than the similarities or common ground. It calls for hatred and stimulates the usage of more violence. Furthermore, war journalism focuses on the physical effects of the conflict, instead of the emotional or psychological effects. Additionally, it assumes that one party can only gain if the other party loses (zero sum).

It is said to be the mouthpiece of the elite. [6] Peace journalism attempts to correct for this bias. Peace Journalism is “when editors and reporters make choices – of what to report, and how to report it – that create opportunities for society at large to consider and value non-violent responses to conflict”[7]. It basically provides the audience with creative and peaceful solutions to a problem, and advocates peace in general. Additionally, it is said to give voice to the voiceless, the citizens that suffer from the conflict.

It tries to be an observer in the conflict, rather than advocating violence. There is controversy about reporting war and peace in general. If one reports war just by stating the events, it distorts the idea, since all conflicts are basically confrontations or parties with opposing goals. [8] According to Galtung, who first introduced the idea of peace journalism, the major cause of violence is disregard of the other party’s opinions, and a lack of empathy. [9] A party in a conflict stands for something specific, which they try to achieve.

If they want their voice to be heard, but they feel that it is not listened to, or whatever they say is being twisted into something else, they might start using violence, because they feel that is the only way to make them be heard. He states that with peace journalism, the situation in Northern Ireland would have improved many years ago. [10] Rwandan Media “RTLM was created specifically as a tool of the genocidaires to demonize the Tutsi, lay the ground work, then literally drive on the killing once the genocide started. ” – Romeo Dallaire, head of UN mission to Rwanda

Within Rwanda, there was Hutu extremist propaganda, created by the Hutu government. Rwandan media is now said to my partially guilty for providing the framework for violence and hatred. [11]In the early 1990s, Tutsis wanted to come back to Rwanda from neighboring countries. The Hutu government saw this as a threat to their power, and spread the rumor that the Tutsis came to attack the Hutus, rather than coming back to their home country. Eventually, 10 percent of all killings during the genocide are believed to be due to hate media in Rwanda. [12]

The radio had been the Hutu government’s mouthpiece before the genocide, and the government knew the power that media could have. According to Kellow and Steeves, the broadcaster ‘Radio-Television Libre des Mille Collines’ (RTLM), of which the Hutu president had a significant shareholder, started spreading hate media in 1993. They say that the media was set up to prepare the civilians for the genocide that had yet to come. [13] The radio was a convenient medium for the Hutu government, as it was affordable for the average Rwandans. It was different from Radio Rwanda, the radio station that had been the government’s mouthpiece until then.

It was a typical FM radio; playing music that the Rwandan citizens liked, and using deejays that made them laugh. They could call the radio deejays, make comments, and request songs. This is the reason why the Rwandans, also when the hate media started, perceived RTLM as their own voice. However, it still was a governmental organization and had kept its authoritarian tone. The hate media toward Tutsis could therefore not easily be disregarded as a neighbor’s proposal. [14] When the genocide started, RTLM was a propagandist medium, which evoked the Hutus to exterminate the Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

The Tutsis were called cockroaches that were ruining the Rwandan society, and RTLM indicated several methods to kill Tutsis. Also, it live reported conversations between supposedly Tutsis, talking about how much they hate Hutus. [15] Later during the genocide, names of Tutsis that had yet to be killed were mentioned on RTLM, together with the location where they could be found. [16] Radio Rwanda followed RTLM’s example, calling the killing of Hutu ‘work’, and that all Hutus owed it to society to ‘work hard’. The few foreigners left in Rwanda, whether journalists, humanitarian aid-providers, or soldiers, were also attacked on the Hutu Radio. 17]

Besides radio, there was also printed propagandist media. Kangura, the anti-Tutsi newspaper, was government owned as well, and together with RTLM spread hatred towards Tutsis and everyone helping them. Kangura introduced the ‘Ten Commandments of the Hutu’. In these commandments, Tutsis were said to be the Hutus’ enemies, and that Hutus should not deal with them. Tutsi women were called temptresses that had to be avoided. These commandments are said to be the real reason why Hutu men killed their Tutsi wives, and why they could kill their closest friends. [18] These are example of the dangers of governmental ownership of media.

International Media Coverage In 1990, when the RPF invaded Rwanda, human rights organizations and the CIA had warned the world and US government for a civil war on Rwandan ground. The Western media, however, ignored this, even though there were suspicious murders of Rwandan leaders and high officials. The media did publish some details about the story, but mainly focusing on refugees in Uganda, waiting for their humanitarian aid.

The humanitarian aid was the focal point, not the genocide itself. In 1991, the media coverage on Rwanda worsened, as they now mainly spoke, if at all, about AIDS and other common African problems. 19] In 1992, the first actual details on the slaughters were posted in the New York Times: a silverback gorilla was shot. According to Karnik, this is a typical example of the media making small things big, and significant things small. [20] In 1994, all foreigners present were recommended, and sometimes forced, to leave the country, regardless of their duty. It may be therefore, why there are not many pictures of the genocide available, and why there was so little media attention for an event with such an amount of killings per day. [21]

The media that was present to take pictures and able to publish them, misrepresented them time after time. [22] People in the West did see images of deaths, but they were depicted as a result of tribal war, and ancient hatred. And on first sight, this was the case. Tutsis and Hutus killing each other. The present journalists had no knowledge about the colonial background of Rwanda, or about the cultural and political history. Therefore, they were unable to discover the deeper reasons for the genocide, which were researched in later years. 23]

Additionally, international media refused to use the word genocide, like the US government, until the genocide was already over. Only French media used the word genocide, even in early warnings in 1993. All the rest of Western media failed to call it by its actual name, possibly due to their loyalty towards the US government. [24] The focus of the news stories quickly shifted from death and slaughter to refuge, disease, and starvation. Therefore, there was not much attention to explain what was happening, and why children died from diseases that had been treatable for a while.

Images of piles of bodies, died of cholera, that were thrown in mass graves were published, not mentioning the lack of support from the international community, who possibly could have prevented these deaths. Due to the stigma of cholera, Western countries were hesitant to take in Rwandan refugees, as they felt they had to put the health of their own citizens first. Besides disease, Western media mainly showed refugee camps full of women and children, while mentioning in the text that Hutu extremist were hiding in the camps.

All in all, there was a lot of confusion in Western regions about what was actually going on in Rwanda. Hindsight, the Rwandan genocide did get media attention. The media called the Rwandan genocide a failure of the international community. Many academic articles and documentaries have been published, elaborating on the causes for the event. Also, the finger was pointed at Western policymakers, who had had clear warnings, and who are suspected to have influenced the international media, because they were unwilling to intervene. 25]


Media is said to have the task to be a ‘watchdog’ of the government, instead of being government owned. In Rwandan (propaganda) media, this went terribly wrong as it played a significant role in the killing of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. But also in the international community, media failed to be independent and objective. They distorted the facts, as far as they understood them with their lack of historical background on the situation, making the genocide seem less severe.

The word genocide was not used until shortly before it ended, and instead, the situation was depicted as ‘African savages’, or tribal wars. With more media coverage, there probably would have been more pressure from the international community for the policy makers to do something about the slaughter. This may have resulted in intervention, possibly saving thousands of lives. However, it is uncertain whether the international community would have come into action if there had been proper media coverage of the genocide.

Furthermore, Rwanda now is a progressive and stable country in Africa. We do not know whether this would have been the case if the international community had intervened. Hopefully, the world citizens have learned from the past, and hindsight media coverage on the topic, so that such a genocide will not happen again in the future. The role of the media in the Rwandan genocide is a good example of what could happen if media sides with the ‘evil party’. Our best defense against war journalism, and distortion of facts by media, is by viewing them critically.

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