More than 150 delegates converge in Kigali tomorrow and Friday to discuss how the media in Africa can report more responsibly, thus preventing disastrous hate speech.
The conference has been organised by the media fraternity in the country in partnership with regional and global media leaders and stakeholders.
The organisers say the meeting is in line with marking the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and using the occasion to reflect on the role played by hate media in inciting hatred and violence.
Local and regional media leaders and journalists, researchers, and other actors from the world of media will attend the forum.
They will draw lessons from Rwanda’s lethal experience where hate media fuelled the Genocide, and propose strategies on how to set up a continental initiative to check hate speech in the media.
Officials at Rwanda’s Media High Council (MHC), which is among the organisers of the forum, say one of the expected outcomes from the conference will be the development of a “continental compact against hate speech in African media.”
“The purpose of this media dialogue is to find ways of building a unified professional voice to raise awareness in Africa of the dangers of hate speech in the media, which is a growing challenge on the continent,” said Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, the MHC executive secretary.
Experts have described Rwanda as one of the tangible examples where the media has played a key role in enabling atrocities through mass dissemination of hate speech.
In the days leading up to the Genocide, Kangura newspaper and Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) radio station had branded themselves as defenders of “Hutu Power”–the ideology behind the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi that fuelled the killing of more than a million Rwandans in three months.
Dr Jean-Damascène Bizimana, a senator and author of a recently published book about the Genocide–Inzira ya Jenoside yakorewe Abatutsi mu Rwanda (A path to Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda)–says in the months leading up to the Genocide, RTLM denounced the Tutsi as ‘traitors’ – calling for their elimination, which came promptly once the targeted killings began.
“Hate media fuelled the most efficient genocide of the 20th century, and if we say ‘never again’, this commitment must begin with the media,” Dr Bizimana says.
Former journalists Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) for incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity.
RTLM presenter Valerie Bemeriki was convicted through the community-based Gacaca courts in Rwanda and is serving a life term.
But many who know about the abuse of freedom of speech in Rwanda in the 1990s continue to worry that the world has not learned much from the experience that freedom of expression should not allow for the propagation of hate speech.
“We continue to see, especially around Genocide commemoration period, media the world over being used to revise history and negate the Genocide against the Tutsi. Some journalists and publications even actively promote denial and theories of double genocide,” Dr Bizimana said.
Under the theme, “Turning the page of hate media in Africa,” the forum will also tackle issues that include ethical challenges, politics, and incitement to violence, international standards and practices against hate speech, gender and cultural challenges, as well as the issue of hatred online and internet-based media.