Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura) yesterday suspended BBC Kinyarwanda service over a series of programmes by the British broadcaster which Genocide survivors and activists say minimise the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
The latest was a recent documentary titled ‘Rwanda’ Untold Story’, which many Rwandans say is an affront to the memory of over a million victims of the Genocide.
Rura, an autonomous statutory body that regulates broadcast media among other regulatory responsibilities, accused the BBC of attempting to ‘rewrite Rwandan history and promoting the agenda of Genocide deniers which is not only a serious breach of Rwandan laws but also international conventions against genocide’.
“Rura is responsible for ensuring that media organisations comply with laws that govern their activities. Over the last three weeks, we have received complaints from members of the public and civil society, especially Genocide survivor organisations,” said Beata Mukangabo, the Head of Corporate, Legal and Industry Affairs at Rura.
The decision was announced hours after members of Avega-Agahozo, the umbrella association of Genocide widows, and other women added their voice to calls for stern action against BBC, during a protest in Kigali.
Earlier in the week, Parliament as well as youth associations urged authorities to revoke BBC license over similar accusations.
“After reviewing the complaints, Rura has assessed that these accusations are serious enough to warrant the temporary suspension of all BBC Kinyarwanda language programmes while more investigations are carried out by the regulator,” Mukangabo said.
She told a press briefing that Rura had also instituted an inquiry to investigate allegations of Genocide denial and revisionism by BBC. The findings of the investigation will determine what further actions to take, she said.
The most controversial section of the documentary is where it insinuates that only 200,000 Tutsi were killed in the 100-day Genocide, while 800,000 Hutu died, figures that are contrary to established facts.
Prof Anastase Shyaka, the CEO of Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) a body charged with media oversight, said the documentary had content that disrupt and disregards not only Rwanda’s agreements with BBC, but also spreads denial of Genocide against the Tutsi and gives a platform to those known to be inciting Rwandans into violence.
“On the basis of that documentary, we have seen massive protests from women, youth and MPs expressing outrage against the BBC documentary. We had to take a decision in the interest of protecting our citizens and the principles of unity and reconciliation,” he said.
Why Kinyarwanda programmes?
BBC broadcasts in Rwanda on the basis of bilateral agreement signed in 1997. Part of article 01 of the agreement reads that: “The BBC shall, in respect of broadcast of its programmes, respect the people’s right to information and to balanced and objective reporting. Not to broadcast any material which is likely to incite hatred, violence and division”.
“The documentary fully disrespects the article of the agreement, and if you recall, they have previously been suspended for violating the same article,” Shyaka pointed out.
Despite the fact that the controversial documentary was first televised on BBC Two, Prof. Shyaka said suspending the Kinyarwanda radio programmes was a way of protesting and sanctioning the corporation.
“This is not the only alternative but it’s a protest and a sanction. We are not enemies to BBC but it has had attitudes that need to be corrected. If someone does something to you, it doesn’t mean that your reaction is going to be in one form … there are numerous options that could be considered,” he said.
He hastened to add that, the very same documentary had been translated to Kinyarwanda by BBC.
“You have to understand that actually the Kinyarwanda version is the one that reaches out to each and every Rwandan. This is a preventative measure,” he said.
BBC’s second suspension
In 2009, the government suspended BBC Kinyarwanda programmes on the grounds that the broadcaster was airing content that incited hatred, divisionism, Genocide denial and revisionism among Rwandans.
The suspension followed a talk show on one of the corporation’s Kinyarwanda-Kirundi programmes, Imvo n’Imvano, that suggested a double genocide had occurred and that the bodies of people found floating in the waters of Lake Victoria, in Uganda during the Genocide“were victims of the Rwanda Patriotic Front”.
Rwanda then lodged a protest to the BBC pointing to the twists in the content and labeled the programme as divisive and disparaging in nature.
According to Prof. Shyaka, BBC broadcasts were later restored after it pledged to avoid future similar actions.
The BBC Africa director then, wrote to Rwanda saying: “The BBC has producer guidelines which emphasise that the BBC not be a platform for incitement, hatred and violence. We shall re-emphasise that to the editors and producers who have responsibility to the output to the Great Lakes Region and specifically Rwanda”.
Shyaka pointed out that the fact that BBC didn’t live to its promise was another reason for its suspension.
“Having in mind that we have the responsibility of ensuring, protecting and guaranteeing the security of this nation, including the principles of unity and reconciliation, and fighting genocide ideology it is with this regard that Rura has taken the decision of suspending and investigating the matter,” said Shyaka.
In a related development, over 2000 women yesterday mounted a protest against the same documentary and petitioned the Parliament to push for a ban on BBC and seek an official apology.
Their petition was received by the Senate president Bernard Makuza who promised to look into it.