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Regional Media want total freedom but….

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By Robert Mugabe

“For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebs 4:12

The preachers know well that, the word of God has an impact to the preached audience and the preacher himself. Thus being the two edged sword.

My former editor and a friend Kennedy Ndahiro, once told me that “in media, telling a story which will bring impact, you need a clean mind and uninfluenced attitude.” After thinking about this editors’ statement, I have come to a conclusion that one of the weakness of scribes in telling a story that that will help the public, is Propaganda.

While the term propaganda has acquired a strongly negative connotation by association with its most manipulative and jingoistic examples, propaganda in its original sense was neutral, and could refer to uses that were generally benign or innocuous, such as public health, recommendations, signs encouraging citizens to participate in a census or election, or messages encouraging persons to report crimes to the police, among others.

Wikipedia defines Propaganda as a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself.

Propaganda often presents facts selectively (thus possibly lying by omission) to encourage a particular synthesis, or uses loaded messages to produce an emotional rather than rational response to the information presented. The desired result is a change of the attitude toward the subject in the target audience to further a political agenda.

Basing on Rwanda case and 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Propaganda was used as a form of  political warfare. Considering the legal case study provided, we shall analyze some of the specific Media related cases at International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) based in Arusha.

Noting the media role in 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, Propaganda is a powerful weapon in war; it is used to dehumanize and create hatred toward a supposed enemy, either internal or external, by creating a false image in the mind.

This can be done by using derogatory or racist terms, avoiding some words or by making allegations of enemy atrocities.

Arusha based court -ICTR holds that “Any public statement that incites violence, whether made on the radio or in a newspaper, may lead to prosecution for genocide or other serious violation of international humanitarian law.”

This can flash back our mind to acknowledge why in Kenya post election violence, among the suspects summoned by ICC prosecutor Morino Okampo, there is a journalist  who is a co-accused accused with politicians.

Here are some examples of Journalists who decided to turn their back from journalism and embrace propaganda, some of whom are convicted and others are still at large.

On 4 June 1994, RTLM Journalist Kantano Habimana told listeners:

“….They should all stand up so that we kill the Inkotanyi and exterminate them … the reason we will exterminate them is that they belong to one ethnic group. Look at the person’s height and his physical appearance. Just look at his small nose and then break it.”

* The Court also found that after 6 April, RTLM broadcast names of Tutsi individuals and their families and they were subsequently killed. The Chamber established that the causal connection between the naming of the individuals and their killing was established.

Most propaganda wars require the home population to feel the enemy has inflicted an injustice, which may be fictitious or may be based on facts. As members of the media in the Great Lakes region struggle for their freedom following government’s control, the media itself has failed to come clean as far as propaganda that leads to violence is concerned.

The international community and other critics of Kigali government have criticized Rwanda’s Genocide Ideology law relating to free expression and media freedom. But, media itself has failed to come clean on issues of calling one ethnic group to rise against each other. To some extent, journalists do it ignorantly.

The recent example is the Umurabyo journalist who was given the heavy sentence due to the same issue. After failing to advocate for the entire Rwandan community and decide to say that one ethnic group is facing persecution, harassment and other divisionist statements.

For Rwanda, some people may think that the Genocide ideology and other laws are politically motivated. However, let’s go to the ICTR court.

Let’s go to the ICTR prosecution Vs Georges Ruggiu case

Ruggiu is a Belgian national who in 1994 was a journalist and broadcaster at the RTLM. He is the only non-Rwandan charged in  connection with the 1994 genocide.

-Arrested 23 July 1997 in Kenya.

  • Originally charged with conspiracy to commit genocide, direct and public incitement to commit genocide, complicity in genocide and crimes against humanity-persecution.
  • Change of plea on 11 April 2000 to guilty in respect of incitement and persecution.

In his guilty plea he admitted the following:

* That in mid-March 1994, RTLM’s management expressly instructed its journalists and announcers to start using terms such as « Inyenzi » and “Inyenzi-Inkotanyi” in their broadcasts.

* That RTLM was one of the key instruments used by the extremist elements of the MRND and the CDR political parties to mobilise and incite the population to massacre the Tutsis and the political opponents, mostly moderate Hutus.

-The same widespread use of the term “Inyenzi” conferred the de facto sense of “persons to be killed”.

* That within the context of war in 1994, the term “Inyenzi” became synonymous with the term “Tutsi” and that the use of the word “Inyenzi” thus ended up in designating the Tutsis as “persons to be killed”.

* that the killings were indiscriminate in nature and targeted unarmed women, children, young persons and the aged alike who were massacred at roadblocks or places where they sought refuge, such as in the préfecture and commune offices, schools, churches and stadia.

* that during one radio program he participated in, he broadcast that the 1959 revolution ought to be completed in order to preserve its achievements. This, he understood to be a call for the killing of Tutsis.

* On the impact of RTLM broadcasts, Georges Ruggiu testified that RTLM broadcasts had a great impact on the 1994 Rwanda genocide in terms of how quickly its messages were received by the population and how widespread the massacres were.


  • On 1 June 2000, Georges Ruggiu was found criminally responsible pursuant to Article 6(1) of the Statute, convicted and sentenced to 12 years in prison on each count of incitement and persecution. Both sentences ran concurrently

Bill Egbe, the senior prosecutor in Arusha appeal council, believes that history teaches us that some of the statements reported by the media during conflict are misrepresentations, half-truths or complete lies.

“Many of these statements are propaganda disseminated by journalists who are either sympathetic, or allied, to one of the parties to the armed conflict, or simply naïve or are not conversant with the history of armed conflict.”

This is the effect of propaganda in an armed conflict! The use of journalists to disseminate propaganda in armed conflict is as old as war itself.

In World Wars I and II, through the Gulf War, the Kosovo War, and recently the wars in Libya and Ivory Coast, all parties to armed conflict used journalists to advance their respective causes.

Nazi propaganda Chief Joseph Goebbels said that if a lie were repeated publicly a hundred times, it would become a truth.

During the Russian Revolution in 1919, Trotsky identified the media — like the defence forces — as one of the key public institutions to take over, if the revolution was to be successful. This is evidence of the power of the media to influence masses.

While propaganda might win a war, it may also lead to criminal prosecution.

As demonstrated in ICTR cases, criminal responsibility is individual.

“They may be charged as planners, instigators, participators or as aiders and abettors in the planning, preparation or execution of genocide or crimes against humanity,” Egbe said.

A superior is responsible for the acts of his subordinates. If he failed to prevent the commission of a crime or once committed, he failed to punish those responsible.

The fact that a subordinate obeyed orders of a superior will also not absolve him/her of criminal responsibility if the said orders led to the commission of crimes and the subordinate had knowledge of that possibility.

As part of the legacy of the ICTR, the Media case established important jurisprudence on the role of the media in a war situation. It is a first since Nuremberg because international criminal justice had not previously addressed the power of the media to create and destroy fundamental human values.

In the conclusion, I believe everyone will agree with me that, as media is at frontline on the quest for public trust and freedom from states regulation, we need to clean our house at the same time.

Media should not be an asset of puppets and politicians who preach violence, divisions among the public. We need to be whistle blowers in the society requesting checks and balances, activists, watchdogs etc. We need to embrace professionalism and walk the talk.

-To be continued-

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