Role of radio in the genocide of Rwanda / by Aaron Phillip Karnell.
The Rwandan genocide of 1994 claimed the lives of roughly 800,000 people. Most of the killing was carried out by ordinary Hutu citizens, though it was organized by the Rwandan government. An extremist radio station, Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), played a strong propagandizing role, exhorting ordinary Hutu to “rise up” in self-defense against their Tutsi neighbors. The station broadcast racist rhetoric justifying violence against Tutsi and provided organizational support for those commanding the killing. By analyzing RTLM broadcasts sampled from a six-day period in March, 1994, and by conducting in-depth interviews and focus groups with ordinary Hutu citizens in Rwanda, genocide survivors, Rwandan intellectuals, and Rwandan journalists, this study sought to clarify the role played by RTLM in the genocide. Analysis of RTLM texts revealed that RTLM used oral modes of thought and discourse in the service of a racist ideology. The station employed the conventions of oral cultures and their attendant psychodynamics in order to make “common sense” of the destruction of life. The analysis demonstrated that traditional African orality may be used to further chauvinistic political objectives. Analysis of interview results suggested that the RTLM audience was composed of three listening communities—eager killers, reluctant killers, and genocide resisters and victims. Motivations for listening to RTLM varied with each group. Responses to RTLM, like responses to the genocide itself, were negotiated and dualistic. The study found that the negotiated model of media influence more accurately described the response of ordinary Hutu to RTLM than theories assuming uniform effects. The study clarified two previously unexplored aspects of RTLM's role. First, it revealed that the organizers of the genocide and the station's journalists achieved a strong symbiosis: Organizers used RTLM to enhance their credibility, and RTLM made it appear to ordinary Hutu as if all authorities in the country spoke with one voice. Second, it demonstrated that what immediately precipitated violence against Tutsi among ordinary Hutu was not RTLM listening per se, but direct contact with local authorities. However, RTLM played a critical reinforcing role in the effort of authorities to mobilize Hutu for violence.
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