The BBC has succumbed to the sin of 'manliness'

Upon reading that the Ngoga Inquiry Committee recommended the termination of the agreement between the Government of Rwanda and the BBC, I could not but recall that my old man always entreated us kids never to succumb to what he called the “sin of manliness,” and to think that the BBC must have succumbed to it.

Upon reading that the Ngoga Inquiry Committee recommended the termination of the agreement between the Government of Rwanda and the BBC, I could not but recall that my old man always entreated us kids never to succumb to what he called the “sin of manliness,” and to think that the BBC must have succumbed to it.

I am not sure whether ‘the sin of manliness’ is the exact translation of “Icyaha cy’ubugabo”, as the old man called it in vernacular, so maybe this short analogy will explain what he meant giving this particular advice.

Tom had lived in the city most of his young life. He had been away when his parents fled the violence in their country in 1959.  It was only seven years later that he was able to reunite with his family.

Barely a month upon his arrival in the refugee camp, Tom joined a group of boys his age who were going on an expedition to invade the woods to gather firewood.

The boys gathered their firewood and began tying up their loads getting ready to go back home, when Tom noticed that his bunch was smaller than most. Tom was a big boy; nearly six feet tall, very impressive in stature, easily towering over his friends and his city boy status gave him a superiority complex over his comrades.

When he noticed that his load was smaller, he immediately made his intention clear. He was going to gather more wood. However, his friends dissuaded him, pointing out that staying out late in the wild was very unwise. They instead proposed that each of them give him a few sticks off their own loads. This arrangement suited him fine, and soon, he had quite an impressive load, and that was what he wanted. But…was it?

Shortly afterwards, they began their descent on the way back. Earlier on, the journey uphill was hard but lighter; but now, the way downhill was easy but heavier, and Tom began doubting the wisdom of his decision to increase the size of his bunch.

The path on the way down was treacherous, but the village boys knew every inch of it as they had experience. They knew each turn, each hole and each dead tree stump to avoid. But Tom didn’t, so he had to be more careful. Soon, he was sweating profusely and every step on the way was becoming unbearable.

After what to Tom seemed an eternity, he finally spotted the roof-tops of the refugee camp down below, and he urged himself to trudge on. He was almost there. In this spirit of hope, his foot was caught in a creeping grass and he fell sprawling in the tall grass, barely avoiding his load that almost fell on his head. Cursing bitterly, he stood up, humiliated and saw the last of his comrades, making a triumphant entry into the camp.

Later, as they sat talking over the incident which almost crippled his son, Tom heard his father tell his friends that he succumbed to ‘the sin of manliness’. The old man explained that Tom, in trying to lord it over his friends, in trying to show what extraordinary man he was, he had overestimated his strength and capabilities, and that brought about his downfall.

Now going back to the issue of Rwanda and the British Broadcasting Corporation, Lord Dobbs a British author and politician, recently accused the BBC of playing “managerial games”, saying that the BBC is no longer the best in the world and that “its standing is being undermined by scandals and a failure to own up to mistakes”.

Well, in relation with Rwanda, such mistakes abound. In August 2008, the Minister for Information warned the BBC that it could be suspended it if failed to abandon its “non-factual reporting” on Rwanda, but the BBC did not heed the warning.

In April 2009, the Rwanda government accused the BBC of spreading hatred and division, and denying the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in its broadcasts, which brought about the suspension of the Corporation’s broadcasts in Kinyarwanda, and the switching-off of its two FM transmitters. At that time, before the BBC rights to broadcast could be reinstated, the Government demanded that it offers guarantees of responsible journalism in the future, which it did but hardly respected. Indeed, just five years later, the BBC repeated the same mistake! Call it what you will, I call it insolence.

And this time around, it was not just insolence. It was criminal. It was a denial of the Genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi, a very serious offence under Rwandan law. On October 1, 2014 – and the choice for this particular date should not be underrated – the BBC broadcast a video documentary titled “Rwanda’s Untold Story” whose main content were claims that denied the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. In the documentary, the BBC became a platform for the deniers of the Genocide against Rwanda’s Tutsi that took place less than a generation ago and in full glare of the world’s media.

Having viewed the documentary in its entirety, one would be surprised to see that where it did not absolutely deny the Genocide, it simply defined the whole planning and execution of it as acting in self-defence. Essentially, the documentary was a list of allegations that completely changed the facts of the Genocide against the Tutsi in 1994, completely reversed the roles between victims and perpetrators, and completely altered what the world knows happened during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi during which a million people were slaughtered in only 100 days.

Like poor Tom in Uganda, basking in the shadow of its past glory, the self-styled mother of all media houses, the BBC had wanted to impress the world, using such a high sounding sensational headline like ‘the untold story”, hoping to hoodwink gullible readership on what happened in Rwanda in 1994. However, the story ended up irremediably tarnishing its reputation for objective and balanced journalism, and turned it into sworn genocide apologist. And today, millions among its audience think there is a real danger of it degenerating into the realms of gutter journalism, for the ethics of its programme makers are extremely questionable.

This time around a legal committee has recommended that the BBC agreement be terminated, based on the identified and recurrent transgressions and after the BBC had been invited to appear before this committee and it declined, with reason.

 Having succumbed to the sin of ‘manliness’ apart, once too often, the sins of genocide denial, promoting divisionism and inciting hatred, were too heavy for the BBC to appear before the likes of Martin Ngoga, Dr Christopher Kayumba, Christophe Mfizi, Rosine Urujeni and Evode Uwizeyimana.

The writer is an editor with Izuba Rirashe, a vernacular sister newspaper of The New Times.