BBC probe team begins work tomorrow

A commission of inquiry set up by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura) to investigate accusations of Genocide denial and revisionism against the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), will start its work tomorrow, Wednesday.
The commission chairperson Martin Ngoga, a former prosecutor-general (R), and member Christophe Mfizi, the dean of the School of Journalism at the Catholic Institute of Kabgayi,  during yesterday’s news briefing at Telecom House in Kacyiru yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)
The commission chairperson Martin Ngoga, a former prosecutor-general (R), and member Christophe Mfizi, the dean of the School of Journalism at the Catholic Institute of Kabgayi, during yesterday’s news briefing at Telecom House in Kacyiru yesterday. (Timothy Kisambira)

A commission of inquiry set up by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura) to investigate accusations of Genocide denial and revisionism against the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), will start its work tomorrow, Wednesday.

Last month, Rura suspended BBC Gahuza, the Kinyarwanda service, following complaints from individuals and organisations in the wake of a controversial documentary titled, Rwanda’s Untold Story, aired on BBC2 channel on October 1.

Critics and survivors of the Genocide say the film is an affront on the over a million victims of the 100-day pogrom.

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A mass demonstration in Kigali staged by women to denounce the BBC documentary on October 24. (John Mbanda)

Following the suspension, Rura set up a five-member independent commission of inquiry headed by former Prosecutor-General Martin Ngoga, with members Christophe Mfizi, the dean of the School of Journalism at the Catholic Institute of Kabgayi, and Dr Christopher Kayumba, a senior lecturer at the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Rwanda.

Other members of the commission are Rosine Urujeni, the lead researcher at the PFR-MORITA unity and reconciliation research center, and Evode Uwizeyimana, vice-chairperson of Rwanda Law Reform Commission.

“Effective Wednesday, we will start our work with public hearings, all witnesses will speak publicly unless when a witness requests to speak in camera. So far all the witnesses we contacted are willing to testify. We are also open to anyone who wants to share any information. This is an open investigation. We don’t want anyone with any form of information to miss out,” Ngoga told journalist yesterday.

The commission, whose mandate is three months, will be sitting at Telecom House Kigali and, according to its chair, part of its mandate will be analysing all BBC records on Rwanda, looking into the queries forwarded to them and meeting with several witnesses, including the BBC managers.

“Towards the end we will meet with BBC (officials), how we will meet is something we will agree on later, but in principle we believe it is a must to talk to BBC otherwise we would be missing something but we are hopeful,” said Ngoga.

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Protesters hold playcards at Kicukiro. (Timothy Kisambira)

Asked if the BBC managers had agreed to appear before the commission, Ngoga said the kind of communication the commission sent to BBC wasn’t demanding an immediate response and the commission was yet to receive feedback.

“But that doesn’t surprise us because we were basically informing them that the commission is already in place, and that at some point in future the BBC would be asked to participate in the process by the way of meeting the commission. The commission will determine when it will be convenient to meet the BBC and will make a particular communication to that effect,” he said.

Ngoga added that the commission has no reason to anticipate that the BBC will not participate.

“This is a process that is good for everyone so we don’t want to impugn any bad faith on any party involved. We believe when time comes for BBC to meet with us, they will, we don’t know when but we will determine according to our own scheduling of witnesses,” he said.

Ngoga, however, could not reveal the exact number of witnesses expected to appear before the probe team, saying the number will depend on several reasons. 

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A Journalist raises his hand to ask a question during the press conference. (Timothy Kisambira)

“We have contacted a good number of witnesses we may add more or those that are on the list may pull out so the number doesn’t really matter but we have contacted witnesses from different spheres,” he said.

“The choice of witnesses was based on the terms of reference and the people that can provide solutions to the matter. On the list of witnesses, we have factual witnesses and these include people who feature in the documentary, researchers on media and genocide, law enforcement officers, and people charged with oversight of implementation of media agreements between the outlets and the government.”

Among the witnesses that will appear is Fred Muvunyi, the chairperson of Rwanda Media Commission and, according to Ngonga, Muvunyi was asked to either come alone or appear accompanied.

Ngoga dismissed claims of partiality, saying none of the commission members finds him or herself in a conflicting situation, adding that they will ensure standards of fairness and the recommendations will be drawn from testimonies and other materials. 

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Commission of Inquiry together with media. (Timothy Kisambira)

“This is not about the personalities in the inquiry, it is about what we will put together,” he said.

Ngoga said it’s an independent commission and that no one has a right to pass a judgment on its objectivity until they have seen the product of its work.

“We are entitled to the benefit of the doubt so give it to us. You will hold us accountable if we fall short of what we have explained,” he told journalists.