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Friday, February 02, 2007
Allan Thompson's The Media and the Rwanda Genocide: New book analyses media role in Rwanda genocide
Radio reports fuelled genocide in Rwanda, says Allan Thompson

In the first book of its kind, Allan Thompson, Canadian journalist and scholar who teaches at Ottawa's Carleton University, has compiled the accounts of foreign journalists and analysed the role played by local and international news outlets in Rwanda during the killing orgy in that country in 1994.

Local radio stations have been singled out in Thompson's The Media and the Rwanda Genocide for arousing Rwanda's transistor radio-listening public and fuelling a killing campaign between the dominant Tutsis and the majority Hutus.

At the same time, the international media is blamed for having failed to grasp what was unfolding until it was too late and for giving too little attention to the story.

According to Prof Thompson, scholars will be studying the issue for a long time to come.

"Frankly, I think the one thing we need to learn is that we have a lot to learn. I think it is really useful to re-examine the way news organisations conducted themselves, both inside Rwanda - particularly hate media - and also the other part of the media equation - international media," he says.

Thompson says that, 12 years after the killing spree, there is still an urgent need for a free press in Rwanda, where journalists do not feel constrained from covering significant issues and developments.

"Radio is still king in Rwanda. Since the 1994 genocide, there have been a fair number of new, independent FM stations, but there is still concern about the overall media environment. I’m not suggesting that it would contribute to another genocide, but there are very real concerns about freedom of the press - sort of a climate of self-censorship among a lot of journalists, which, I think, means everyone still has something to learn from the events of 1994."

"An important lesson," Thompson adds, "is that we missed all the warning signs. We did not seem to understand what we were hearing on the airwaves, didn't see how this was connected to a sort of demonisation campaign to lay the groundwork for genocide."

Unlike the Rwandan genocide, the mass killings in Sudan’s Darfur region are receiving high-profile international media attention, even though coverage is severely limited on the ground in such a remote region as western Sudan.

Thompson notes that there are lessons for the international press to draw from this situation as well. "What's the connection between media coverage and political decision-making by those who would be in a position to mount an intervention in a place like Darfur or could have done so in Rwanda?" he asks.

"Rwanda did not register in our consciousness until months later, when we started paying attention to the plight of refugees in Goma, who had fled the country after the genocide. Darfur has probably received more coverage, but it still has not become the `tsunami' that we experienced in the media a couple of years ago," remarks Thompson.

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