BBC documentary relied on hostile sources, says Tanzanian editor

A prominent Tanzanian journalist has strongly criticised the BBC for "lack of professional journalistic ethics" in the production of the controversial documentary "Rwanda's Untold Story."
Rwandans demonstrate against the BBC on October 24. (File)
Rwandans demonstrate against the BBC on October 24. (File)

A prominent Tanzanian journalist has strongly criticised the BBC for “lack of professional journalistic ethics” in the production of the controversial documentary “Rwanda’s Untold Story.”

Richard Mgamba, the Managing Editor of Tanzania’s leading English daily, The Citizen, was yesterday appearing before the five-member inquiry that’s looking into accusations of Genocide denial and revisionism leveled against the British broadcaster.

Mgamba, an award-winning veteran investigative journalist, was testifying as an independent media practitioner with more than 20 years of experience in the field.

He told the inquiry that, in producing the documentary, the BBC mainly relied on sources that are hostile to Rwanda and never took time to verify their claims, yet the one-hour film contains “very strong assertions about the Genocide and makes equally strong allegations against the RPF as a political organisation”.

Mgamba questioned the credibility of the information given by people who have fallen out with the Rwandan government, saying that, professionally, if one was to use such hostile sources, their account must be subjected to vigorous checks with the help of credible sources, which the BBC failed to do.

“If a woman divorced her husband, would that woman be a very reliable source about the behaviour of her ex-husband; would you believe in whatever she has said without verification?” he asked.

He added that, in journalism, one doesn’t take whatever is said as the gospel truth until a rigorous verification is carried out.

This is a cardinal guiding principle in this trade which the BBC never did, he said.

Mgamba told the panel that while press freedom and free speech are enshrined in various national constitutions and international conventions on human rights, the same legal instruments also protect the dignity and privacy of others.

Therefore, no professional journalist should violate people’s dignity and privacy in the name of press freedom and free speech,” he said.

Mgamba, dissecting the content of the BBC documentary, stressed that the producer should have treated the subject with much caution since it’s about a sensitive issue, that directly concerns people’s lives.

He described the type of journalism depicted in the documentary, aired on BBC2 on October 1, as a “flying squad” with unverified allegations that could destabilise Rwanda.

The documentary has sparked outrage among many people around the world, including Genocide survivors as well as international scholars and researchers. They accuse the BBC of lack of objectivity and trying to re-write the history of Rwanda.

The probe team, chaired by former prosecutor general Martin Ngoga, was set up by Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority to look into allegations, against the BBC, brought to its attention by various civil society organisations.

editorial@newtimes.co.rw

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