Operation Just Change The Dial

Sun, 10 Jul 2011 Source: Ablorh, Raymond


knife, in the hands of a physician is a source of relief to the

perishing soul that needs surgery; in the hands of the armed robber,

it’s a pain booster to the vulnerable victim. So, the media that the

Rwandans could employ for problem-preventing and solving education, they

used as killing catalysts in ethnicity motivated genocide. Out

of a population of 7.3 million people – 84% of whom were Hutus, 15%

Tutis and 1% Twa – the official figures published by the Rwandan

government estimated the number of victims of the genocide to be 1,174,

000 in 100 days (10,000 murdered everyday, 400 every hour, 7 every

minute). Another source put the death toll at 800,000, 20%

of whom were Hutus. It’s estimated that 300,000 Tutis survived the

genocide. Thousands of widows, many of whom were subjected to rape, are

now HIV- positive. There were about 400,000 orphans and nearly 85,000 of

them forced to be become heads of families. Certainly,

the first lesson Rwandans practically learned is that the world cannot

be trusted to save them from their suffering, as the former UN Secretary

General, Kofi Annan, candidly admitted of the sad event later in the

year 2000, “the international community failed Rwanda and that must

leave us always with a sense of bitter regret.” With this

sense of bitter regret the entire world moved to assist in the recovery

of poor Rwanda; but, as Ellis Cose wrote in ‘Lessons of Rwanda’

published on the Newsweek website on April 12, 2008, “the important

thing is not how quickly the country is healing but how easily it

descended into madness.” It is in this swiftness to such

heights of madness that growing democracies like Ghana could locate the

lessons soaked in the thick blood of the people of Rwanda. One of the

greatest lessons here to infant democracies is that they ought to

appreciate with insight the responsibilities democratic freedoms;

especially, media freedom, come with before they set their countries

ablaze. The head of the media capacity building project in

Rwanda – ‘Rwanda Initiative’, Prof. Allan Johnson bluntly put it his

way, “…: local media fueled the killings, while the international media

either ignored or seriously misconstrued what was happening.” The local

print media are believed to have started hate speeches against Tutis,

which were further broadcast by radio stations. In a

country where nearly fifty percent of the population could neither read

nor write, radio was a vital form of public communication. Radio appears

also to have been widely trusted in Rwanda, with several surveys in the

1980s showing that the vast majority of the population believed that

‘radio tells the truth’. Television was expensive, and given the hilly

terrain it was almost impossible at that time to receive a clear

terrestrial signal. By contrast radio could reach nearly

90% of the country. During the 1980s, the production of radios was

subsidised by foreign donors and the government. Both sold sets at a

reduced price and gave them away to party administrators, as well as

more widely during elections. Some of these radios could only receive

FM. As captured in Jolyon Mitchell's article,'Remembering

the Rwandan Genocide: Reconsidering the Role of Local and Global Media',

“in 1970 there was about one radio to every 120 people, but by 1990

this had increased to one radio to every 13 people. With this greater

availability, increasingly radio became a focal point for entertainment,

information and discussion in Rwanda.” With the founding of

Radio-tèlèvision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) in July 1993, Rwanda’s

airwaves were filled with a new sound. It soon became

Rwanda’s most popular radio station, and in the months preceding the

genocide, many residents tuned to RTLM in their homes and ‘in offices,

cafes, bars and other public gathering places, even in taxis’. In the

midst of what some saw as a civil war and others an invasion, RTLM

contributed to the development of an increasingly tense public sphere,

which provided a forum for extremist speakers to articulate old

grievances and new anxieties. Given this context it is not

surprising that subsequent journalistic accounts of the Rwandan

genocide pointed to locally produced radio broadcasts as a significant

catalyst for the explosion of violence. Other media

particularly the Hutu extremist newspaper Kangura (‘Wake him up’) were

also blamed, but it was the radio broadcasts of RTLM, and to a lesser

extent Radio Rwanda that were deemed to be particularly culpable. One

Canadian journalist described how ‘Hutus could be seen listening

attentively to every broadcast… They held their cheap radios in one hand

and machetes in the other, ready to start killing once the order had

been given’. Other journalists in the West also

highlighted the part played by RTLM in the genocide. The Washington

Post, for example, as early as April 7, 1994, quoted a RTLM broadcast

that warned Tutsi in Rwanda, ‘You cockroaches must know you are made of

flesh! We won’t let you kill! We will kill you!’’ Associated

Press also on April 25, 1994, quoted a UN spokesman in Kigali claiming

that ‘Radio RTLM is calling on militias to step up the killing of

civilians.’The belief that radio was partly culpable for the

Rwandan tragedy has been reinforced in other contexts. For example, a

short French film Itsembatsemba: Rwanda One Genocide Later (Alexis

Cordesse and Eyal Sivan, 1996) depicts how RTLM began to broadcast with

the assistance of the government and then played a central part in ‘the

unleashing and the coordination’ of the genocide. Recent feature films about the

genocide, such as Hotel Rwanda (2004) also highlight the role of the radio.


the actual role that RTLM played in the Rwandan genocide remains not

only a contested phenomenon, but also a point of judicial inquiry. Yes,

during the 2008 General Elections in Ghana, many a resident stood

frighteningly at a steep edge seeing the power of the media when a

broadcast from Radio Gold got many supporters of the National Democratic

Congress (NDC) surround the station to stop the police from allegedly

effecting some arrest there. And, we all saw how simple broadcast got

thousands of supporters besiege the Electoral Commission head office at

Ridge, Accra. Surely, some people imagined that but for

Radio Gold’s effort, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) would have rigged the

elections; but, nobody could imagine what would have happened if the

visibly pro- NPP radio station, Oman FM, was very active those days and

decided to inspire NPP supporters with an ‘ALL- DIE- BE- DIE’ message.

This is just a food for thought. When I listen to some

stations today, I genuinely get sad and frightened about what could

happened if we don’t learn from the blood soaked lessons from Rwanda

now. We aren’t better human beings than the Rwandans and if what got

them killing themselves happens to us we could do same. We have to take

nothing for granted. Unlike in Rwanda, there are so many

ethnic groups in Ghana and it wouldn’t be easy getting one ethnic group

fighting the other. But, we could fight along political party lines;

and, looking at how we continue to tie political parties to ethnic

groups, political enmity could resurrect old bad tribal feelings. The

consequence is obvious. Again, unlike Rwanda, Ghana has

very broad and diverse media domain which continue to offer audience

many varieties of contents. However, one doesn’t need to conduct an

extensive audience research to know that party supporters even without a

whip know where to get information favourable to their parties from.

Hence, the most predictable place any such violence could start is the

politicians-owned media and from those journalists who are more of

politicians than journalists. This is why the National

Media Commission (NMC), Ghana Journalists Association (GJA) and all well

meaning organizations and individuals ought to deem it expedient and

highly imperative to check the media before they kill us all. It’s no

insult to call the NMC a toothless dog; and the GJA is also being more

protective of the journalist with a solidarity hug and paying very less

attention on ensuring that professional standards are upheld. The

latter’s controversial definition of who a journalist is and

requirements for membership could be looked at again. According to them,

journalists, after their four-year degree programme or two-year diploma

studies must work for two years before they could be members. Such

fresh journalists with purely academic appreciation of media ethics

could be dangerous on the media landscape; so, I suggest the GJA rather

should at least create some category for the fresh out of school

journalist in a membership structure where they could benefit from the

Association’s professional training to equip them with some kind of

relevant ethical decision making and taking techniques to enhance their

work. When I was the SRC Vice president of the Ghana

Institute of Journalism, for instance, I initiated the ‘Journalism

Student Debate’ dubbed ‘Controversies in Media Ethics’ where student

journalists practically could debate latest ethical matters in the

Ghanaian media so that by the time they entered the field they could

without much difficulty appreciate some of the major ethical decisions

they would take daily in and out of the newsroom. I

expected the institute or the SRC to institutionalize that with the very

good reasons it came with. But, perhaps, because it’s more difficult to

convince the students to patronize such an event than do the MISS

COMMUNICATOR or the beach party on the SRC’s calendar, present students

don’t even know that something like that had ever been done in the

school before. I suggest that all journalism schools in

Ghana should find a way of encouraging such intellectual and

professional engagements both internally; and externally, among the

schools as exercises purposefully directed at keeping the beneficiaries

abreast with practical ethical issues on the field even before they get

there. But, again, the ordinary reporter has very limited

power when it comes to newsroom decisions, and this is why the NMC needs

to be strengthened to deliver more effectively and efficiently its

mandate. Meanwhile, till the NMC acquires what it takes to

‘control’ our media; maybe, the audience could do the magic. Please,

don’t go and beat any journalist in a media house because that would

obviously get you into trouble. Moreover, never fight anybody who buys

ink in barrels. For, as it is said, the pen is mightier than the sword.

And, I would add that the mightiest is the microphone. The

way to do it is simple, JUST CHANGE THE DIAL from that station; or,

DON’T BUY THE PAPER which incites people and engages in anti-development

journalism. Their listenership and circulations would obviously drop

speedily over a short time and there never could be an effective

audience control than that. Go on and educate those around

you to avoid nation wrecking and unconstructive media outputs and if we

continue to do that the only people who would be left listening to them

are themselves and perhaps the serial callers. And, which advertiser

would sponsor a programme which has just few serial callers as its


Raymond Ablorh raydelove@yahoo.co.uk

Columnist: Ablorh, Raymond