MOST PEOPLE turn to newspapers and other media for news and information. Seldom do they see the media as a source of fiction. For that they go elsewhere.
We have developed faith in the media because of its ability to reach where most of us cannot, to unearth what has been hidden and bring all this to public attention.
Most of us have kept faith with the news media because we think journalists are fair-minded, objective people whose only interest is to present facts as they are and tell the story as it is.
By and large, this faith is not misplaced because many journalists take their calling seriously and keep us well informed – and more importantly keep their biases out of the story.
That is why we still look forward to the next news bulletin or the following day’s newspaper.
Rwandans may beg to differ with this broad generalisation. They have seen reporting on their country that is more fiction than fact, more biased than balanced, and intended more to inflame than inform.
Such reporting has begun to stretch their faith in the impartiality of news organisations to extreme limits.
In the process, the media have succeeded in misinforming the public as well as in redefining words in common usage, whose meaning is so clear that there is no possibility of any misunderstanding.
From the lips or fingertips of some reporters, ordinary words like evidence, major, opposition, dissent, investigation take on new meanings. It is a sort of media-generated linguistic mutation applicable in certain specific settings such as Rwanda.
Take the case of the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail. On Saturday, May 5, 2014, the French news agency, AFP, reported that according to investigations the newspaper had carried out, the Government of Rwanda was guilty of hiring killers to assassinate its opponents.
The paper claimed that its investigations provided the strongest evidence that the government was behind attacks against exiled Rwandans in several countries.
What is the evidence that leads to this finding? The stories of the same exiles. And what sort of investigation was done? Talking to the same group of exiles.
The Globe and Mail is not alone in this. It has an illustrious companion – the BBC. About a month ago, the BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse “confirmed” that the Government of Rwanda was behind the killing of Patrick Karegeya, a disgraced former army officer. His methods were similar to those of The Globe and Mail.
He spoke to Karegeya’s nephew and members of the Rwanda National Council in South Africa. This, too, was called an investigation.
Now, it stretches belief to think that Gatehouse carried out any investigation. The man has little time in any one place to do such serious work.
He has been darting about from one crisis spot to another. One moment he is in Nairobi; the next he is in Goma. Before you blink an eye, he is in South Africa “investigating” and solving a murder that the South African police, with all their resources and expertise, have not solved in over four months.
Before the ink has dried on his report, you hear he is in Ukraine giving expert opinion on the events there.
In these two instances, it is difficult to believe any investigation was ever done – certainly not the way most of us understand it.
An investigation is a serious search and enquiry that involves examining and analysing evidence, motives, causes and relationships before arriving at findings.
In both cases, it is obvious that findings preceded inquiry, the culprit was known before investigation, effectively making the latter unnecessary.
Similarly, the value of any evidence depends on the credibility and integrity of the source, and on whether it is based on fact. In most instances, it must be corroborated.
Ordinarily the evidence of an interested party must be viewed with some scepticism. It is incredible therefore that the stories of exiles can be presented as evidence of culpability of the government they vilify.
The same media raise the fugitives from justice to the level of political dissidents who fled their country because they are not free to express their dissent.
This is another media invention. This category of Rwandans as presented by the media does not exist.
Dissent in this instance would mean disagreement over principles or policies of the political and economic organisation of the country.
For people to dissent, they must have alternative views from those held by the group in power that they have been denied the right to express.
To the best of my knowledge, I have never heard any of the so-called dissidents articulate an alternative political or economic strategy for the country before or after they fled.
And to my understanding, the right to dissent does not include the right to commit criminal offences.
The media have allies in the rights groups and United Nations experts in redefining the meaning of words and extravagant descriptions.
For all these groups, evidence is usually “overwhelming” or “incontrovertible” even when it has only come from hired witnesses or directly interested parties.
They get full marks for exaggeration and inventiveness, and zero for truth.