Media as a tool of genocide

Twenty seven years ago today, Genocide visited Rwanda.

Nearly one million Tutsi and moderate Hutu peoples were slaughtered in slightly less than 100 days, a rate of killing that even Nazi Germany’s industrial murder machine would be hard pushed to match.

Reflecting on the extent of the horror the UN commander in Rwanda at the time Canadian General Romeo Dallaire said:

‘If I was unsure before, I now know that God must exist because I have shaken hands with the devil himself.’

The media’s role in orchestrating these atrocities was central to the speed, ferocity and scale of the killings.

In developing countries where the media infrastructure is limited and large sections of the population are illiterate radioeven in the internet age, is still king.

They are relatively cheap to buy and radio programmes are easy and quick produced compared to their visual equivalent.

Radio as a communications medium has the ability to reach as good as a saturation audience, making it the ideal propaganda tool.

A tool the ruling Hutu government used to devastating effect in Spring 1994, galvanising massive sectors of the population to commit acts of indescribable evil, organising inspiring and directing ordinary people to carry out monstrous crimes against their neighbours.

After the Tutsi led Rwandan Patriotic Front invasion 1990 the Hutu led administration decided that the only way that they would have a free reign to rule Rwanda would be to wipe out their bitter Tutsi enemies forever, so planning began for their version of the Final Solution.

Central to these plans were detailed census mapping of where Tutsi lived so when the time came for action it would be focused and swift. But the foundation of Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines in the capital Kigali was to play a central part as well.

The use of radio as propaganda weapon is nothing new Lord Haw Haw was a nightly feature of radio during WWII urging Britain to surrender. Tokyo Rose did the same job. And during the Vietnam War Hanoi Hannah was a nightly presence for GIs in the jungle.

What is different about Radio Mille Colline was that it was not random broadcasts railing against enemies, it used targeted racist propaganda to whip up the population creating an atmosphere that allowed the genocide to occur. It is no exaggeration to say that without Radio Mille Colline it is unlikely that it genocide would have generated anything like the severity that it did.

Widely listened to by the general population, it projected racist propaganda against Tutsis, moderate Hutus, Belgians, and the United Nations

It used a potent mixture of popular music and humour to attract a young audience interspersed with anti Tutsi messages and quickly developed a faithful audience among young Rwandans, who later made up the bulk of the Interahamwe militia who carried out the mass killings.

The extent of their complicity is amply illustrated in that Radio Mille Colline was the station used to announce the start of the killings with code words:

“cut down the tall trees”

Within hours of this being broadcast road blocks appeared in a systematic way across the country and the planned killing began.

Throughout the genocide the station was used to direct Interanhwe in their killing and used to broadcast false information to Tutsi’s. It broadcast that Kibuyi in the east of the country would be safe zone for Tutsi refugees and urged them to head there for safety.

However, once there they discovered that this was merely a ploy by the government to round them all up in one place to make the killing easier.

More than 6000 people were killed in the Church in Kibuye the vast majority by machete.

Such was the extent of the intensity of the killing that the genocidaires could not physically finish everyone off. One witness survivor reports state that before breaking off after their days ‘work’ the genocidiares too tired to continue the killing would cut the achillies tendons of those still alive so they would be easy to find and finish off the next day before heading off for a leisurely evening back with their families.

In 2000 the station director, editor and producers were all found guilty of inciting crimes against humanity at the international Court of Justice in Arusha Tanzania, the court set up to deal with leaders of the genocide.

The first time since Nuremburg journalists were found guilty of such a crime.