The power of words channelled through the media was once again emphasised at a two-day media forum on hate speech that kicked off in Kigali yesterday.
With more than 150 media leaders and top journalists from around the continent in attendance, delegates heard that what happened in Rwanda and some other parts of the world where media fuelled violence must not ever happen again.
In attendance are representatives of the African Union, World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers, the International Association of Women in Radio and Television, the African Editors Forum, the Federation of African Journalists, and several national journalists’ unions.
Kigali is clearly a significant place to have the forum given that in 1994 some media outlets and practitioners in the country played a major role in inciting violence during the Genocide against the Tutsi.
Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi reminded journalists how important it is to think about what they can do to prevent hate language given its disastrous impact.
“What happened in Rwanda must not happen in any country again. This fraternity dialogue, which aims at agreeing on strong measures to curb hate media on the continent, is one of the strategies to ensure the media will no longer fuel atrocities,” Premier Habumuremyi said.
In Rwanda, former journalists such as Hassan Ngeze, Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean Bosco Barayagwiza were convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda of incitement to genocide and crimes against humanity.
Radio presenter during the Genocide, Valerie Bemeriki, was also convicted by homegrown Gacaca courts and is serving a life term.
The premier said after learning from its experience with the media and free speech, Rwanda is now dotted with media and free speech laws that both guarantee freedom of expression but also ensure that hatred is prevented.
“Some people may think that preventing hate language is a violation of the freedom of speech. This is not the case. Freedom of speech does not mean inciting hatred,” Habumuremyi said.
On the agenda at the forum are strategies to deal with intolerance to divergent ideas, discriminatory discourse, religious fundamentalism and cultural biases.
The forum noted that hate speech in the mainstream and social media as often institutionalised social phenomenon that has gained momentum in the digital era.
But what is alarming, experts say, is that patterns of hate speech continue to show up in the mainstream media despite its documented consequences.
Delegates cited a recent article entitled, “Turning screws on Somalis will force them to reveal attacks,” that appeared in Kenya’s Daily Nation on Friday, April 11.
The article was described as a piece that contains hate speech against Somali communities in Kenya.
At the end of the forum, today, delegates are expected to launch a campaign against hate speech and form a continental network against hate speech in African media.
Peacemaker Mbungiramihigo, the executive secretary of Media High Council–that co-organised the forum said the discussions in Kigali will also boost the abilities of local journalists to detect hate speech.
“We are pleased to host this important event in Rwanda which allows local journalists to be part of the campaign to fight against any form of hate speech,” he said.