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Last Updated: Monday, 5 April, 2004, 17:21 GMT 18:21 UK
Rwandan hate media - 10 years on

Martin Peters
BBC Monitoring

It is 10 years since an aircraft carrying President Juvenal Habyarimana of Rwanda and President Cyprien Ntaryamira of neighbouring Burundi was brought down by a missile near the Rwandan capital, Kigali, killing all those on board.

Ethnic Hutu troops from Rwandan government forces, and French patrol in June 1994
Hutus were politically dominant before the killings

What followed was genocide: the deaths of up to 800,000 Rwandans. The actions of the militias that carried out the killings were fuelled, in part, by broadcasts carried by Radio Television des Milles Collines (RTLM) and publications which openly incited Hutus to kill Tutsis.

In December 2003, at the conclusion of a three-year long trial, three Rwandan journalists were handed long sentences. Two were charged with using a radio station and one with publishing as part of a campaign of incitement to commit genocide and crimes against humanity.

Rwandan media today

The spectre of a media running out of control and nervousness over rogue media outlets is hard to dispel and illustrated by a high level of media control and the lack of media diversity in Rwanda.

Only recently have foreign broadcasters including the BBC World Service, Voice of America and German external radio Deutsche Welle been granted FM rebroadcast licences.

Several privately-owned radio stations have now received licences to compete with the government-owned Radio Rwanda.

However, no new television stations have been licensed. "We have put a halt on licensing television stations because we wanted to deal with the radios first," one official said.

In addition to providing some much-needed employment, the stations will air educational programmes designed to enhance efforts to eradicate poverty as well as increase awareness about HIV/Aids.

Rwanda's first private radio station since the 1994 genocide began broadcasting at the end of February 2004. Radio 10 started its inaugural FM programming with a broadcast from its owner, who promised that it would not repeat the acts of its predecessor RTLM, ten years before.

Hate radio elsewhere

The Rwandan case is perhaps the most familiar example of hate media from recent years. However, other regions in conflict have seen similar operations spring up, with the aim of spreading discord and heightening tension - Indonesia, the Philippines and the Democratic Republic of Congo amongst them.

Denmark's Copenhagen-based, extreme right-wing Radio Oasen has only recently had its state funding withdrawn. Meanwhile, in South Africa, Radio Pretoria continues to broadcast its right-wing messages.

Described by the International Herald Tribune as the radio station where "apartheid is still revered", this "unique voice for conservative Afrikaners" still broadcasts the old apartheid regime's national anthem every morning.

Lessons learnt?

Direct action could have silenced the hate from Rwanda's RTLM in the same way Serbian TV was removed from the airwaves.

General Romeo Dallaire, the commander of the UN peacekeeping operation in Rwanda at the time of the genocide, said: "Simply jamming broadcasts and replacing them with messages of peace and reconciliation would have had a significant impact on the course of events."

It is not clear what action will be taken in future occurrences, but the international community are now fully aware of hate media outlets as indicators of tension and the dreadful power they can wield, especially in already unstable situations.

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

The BBC's Fergal Keane
"Radio Mille Collines was the cheerleader for mass murder"

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