The Day Ghana Nearly Got Burnt
5/7/2012 11:36:34 AM -
The knife, in the hands of a physician is a source of relief to the perishing soul that needs surgery; in the hands of the armed robber, it's a pain booster to the vulnerable victim. So, the media that the Rwandans could employ for problem-preventing and solving education, they used as killing catalysts in ethnicity motivated genocide.
Out of a population of 7.3 million people - 84% of whom were Hutus, 15% Tutis and 1% Twa - the official figures published by the Rwandan government estimated the number of victims of the genocide to be 1,174, 000 in 100 days (10,000 murdered everyday, 400 every hour, 7 every minute).
Another source put the death toll at 800,000, 20% of whom were Hutus. It's estimated that 300,000 Tutis survived the genocide. Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to rape, are now HIV- positive. There were about 400,000 orphans and nearly 85,000 of them forced to be become heads of families.
Certainly, the first lesson Rwandans practically learned is that the world cannot be trusted to save them from their suffering, as the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, candidly admitted of the sad event later in the year 2000, 'the international community failed Rwanda and that must leave us always with a sense of bitter regret.'
With this sense of bitter regret the entire world moved to assist in the recovery of poor Rwanda; but, as Ellis Cose wrote in 'Lessons of Rwanda' published on the Newsweek website on April 12, 2008, 'the important thing is not how quickly the country is healing but how easily it descended into madness.'
It is in this swiftness to such heights of madness that growing democracies like Ghana could locate the lessons soaked in the thick blood of the people of Rwanda. One of the greatest lessons here to infant democracies is that they ought to appreciate with insight the responsibilities democratic freedoms; especially, media freedom, come with before they set their countries ablaze.
The head of the media capacity building project in Rwanda - 'Rwanda Initiative', Prof. Allan Johnson bluntly put it his way, ': local media fueled the killings, while the international media either ignored or seriously misconstrued what was happening.' The local print media are believed to have started hate speeches against Tutis, which were further broadcast by radio stations.
In a country where nearly fifty percent of the population could neither read nor write, radio was a vital form of public communication. Radio appears also to have been widely trusted in Rwanda, with several surveys in the 1980s showing that the vast majority of the population believed that 'radio tells the truth'. Television was expensive, and given the hilly terrain it was almost impossible at that time to receive a clear terrestrial signal.
By contrast radio could reach nearly 90% of the country. During the 1980s, the production of radios was subsidised by foreign donors and the government. Both sold sets at a reduced price and gave them away to party administrators, as well as more widely during elections. Some of these radios could only receive FM.
As captured in Jolyon Mitchell's article,'Remembering the Rwandan Genocide: Reconsidering the Role of Local and Global Media', 'in 1970 there was about one radio to every 120 people, but by 1990 this had increased to one radio to every 13 people. With this greater availability, increasingly radio became a focal point for entertainment, information and discussion in Rwanda.' With the founding of Radio-tèlèvision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) in July 1993, Rwanda's airwaves were filled with a new sound.
It soon became Rwanda's most popular radio station, and in the months preceding the genocide, many residents tuned to RTLM in their homes and 'in offices, cafes, bars and other public gathering places, even in taxis'. In the midst of what some saw as a civil war and others an invasion, RTLM contributed to the development of an increasingly tense public sphere, which provided a forum for extremist speakers to articulate old grievances and new anxieties.
Given this context it is not surprising that subsequent journalistic accounts of the Rwandan genocide pointed to locally produced radio broadcasts as a significant catalyst for the explosion of violence.
Other media particularly the Hutu extremist newspaper Kangura ('Wake him up') were also blamed, but it was the radio broadcasts of RTLM, and to a lesser extent Radio Rwanda that were deemed to be particularly culpable. One Canadian journalist described how 'Hutus could be seen listening attentively to every broadcast They held their cheap radios in one hand and machetes in the other, ready to start killing once the order had been given'.
Other journalists in the West also highlighted the part played by RTLM in the genocide. The Washington Post, for example, as early as April 7, 1994, quoted a RTLM broadcast that warned Tutsi in Rwanda, 'You cockroaches must know you are made of flesh! We won't let you kill! We will kill you!''
Associated Press also on April 25, 1994, quoted a UN spokesman in Kigali claiming that 'Radio RTLM is calling on militias to step up the killing of civilians.'
The belief that radio was partly culpable for the Rwandan tragedy has been reinforced in other contexts. For example, a short French film Itsembatsemba: Rwanda One Genocide Later (Alexis Cordesse and Eyal Sivan, 1996) depicts how RTLM began to broadcast with the assistance of the government and then played a central part in 'the unleashing and the coordination' of the genocide.
Recent feature films about the genocide, such as Hotel Rwanda (2004) also highlight the role of the radio. Nevertheless, the actual role that RTLM played in the Rwandan genocide remains not only a contested phenomenon, but also a point of judicial inquiry.
Yes, during the 2008 General Elections in Ghana, many a resident stood frighteningly at a steep edge seeing the power of the media when a broadcast from Radio Gold got many supporters of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) surround the station to stop the police from allegedly effecting some arrest there. And, we all saw how simple broadcast got thousands of supporters besiege the Electoral Commission head office at Ridge, Accra.
Surely, some people imagined that but for Radio Gold's effort, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) would have rigged the elections; but, nobody could imagine what would have happened if the visibly pro- NPP radio station, Oman FM, was very active those days and decided to inspire NPP supporters with an 'ALL- DIE- BE- DIE' message. This is just a food for thought.
When I listen to some stations today, I genuinely get sad and frightened about what could happened if we don't learn from the blood soaked lessons from Rwanda now. We aren't better human beings than the Rwandans and if what got them killing themselves happens to us we could do same. We have to take nothing for granted.
Unlike in Rwanda, there are so many ethnic groups in Ghana and it wouldn't be easy getting one ethnic group fighting the other. But, we could fight along political party lines; and, looking at how we continue to tie political parties to ethnic groups, political enmity could resurrect old bad tribal feelings. The consequence is obvious.
Again, unlike Rwanda, Ghana has very broad and diverse media domain which continue to offer audience many varieties of contents. However, one doesn't need to conduct an extensive audience research to know that party supporters even without a whip know where to get information favourable to their parties from. Hence, the most predictable place any such violence could start is the politicians-owned media and from those journalists who are more of politicians than journalists.
This is why the National Media Commission (NMC), Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and all well meaning organizations and individuals ought to deem it expedient and highly imperative to check the media before they kill us all. It's no insult to call the NMC a toothless dog; and the GJA is also being more protective of the journalist with a solidarity hug and paying very less attention on ensuring that professional standards are upheld.
The latter's controversial definition of who a journalist is and requirements for membership could be looked at again. According to them, journalists, after their four-year degree programme or two-year diploma studies must work for two years before they could be members.
Such fresh journalists with purely academic appreciation of media ethics could be dangerous on the media landscape; so, I suggest the GJA rather should at least create some category for the fresh out of school journalist in a membership structure where they could benefit from the Association's professional training to equip them with some kind of relevant ethical decision making and taking techniques to enhance their work.
When I was the SRC Vice president of the Ghana Institute of Journalism, for instance, I initiated the 'Journalism Student Debate' dubbed 'Controversies in Media Ethics' where student journalists practically could debate latest ethical matters in the Ghanaian media so that by the time they entered the field they could without much difficulty appreciate some of the major ethical decisions they would take daily in and out of the newsroom.
I expected the institute or the SRC to institutionalize that with the very good reasons it came with. But, perhaps, because it's more difficult to convince the students to patronize such an event than do the MISS COMMUNICATOR or the beach party on the SRC's calendar, present students don't even know that something like that had ever been done in the school before.
I suggest that all journalism schools in Ghana should find a way of encouraging such intellectual and professional engagements both internally; and externally, among the schools as exercises purposefully directed at keeping the beneficiaries abreast with practical ethical issues on the field even before they get there.
But, again, the ordinary reporter has very limited power when it comes to newsroom decisions, and this is why the NMC needs to be strengthened to deliver more effectively and efficiently its mandate.
Meanwhile, till the NMC acquires what it takes to 'control' our media; maybe, the audience could do the magic. Please, don't go and beat any journalist in a media house because that would obviously get you into trouble. Moreover, never fight anybody who buys ink in barrels. For, as it is said, the pen is mightier than the sword. And, I would add that the mightiest is the microphone.
The way to do it is simple, JUST CHANGE THE DIAL from that station; or, DON'T BUY THE PAPER which incites people and engages in anti-development journalism. Their listenership and circulations would obviously drop speedily over a short time and there never could be an effective audience control than that.
Go on and educate those around you to avoid nation wrecking and unconstructive media outputs and if we continue to do that the only people who would be left listening to them are themselves and perhaps the serial callers. And, which advertiser would sponsor a programme which has just few serial callers as its audience?
Writer's email: firstname.lastname@example.org