When will the Western media catch up?

Posted: May 22, 2011 in Analysis
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By: Felicien Mwumvaneza

Even when no one heeded their cry, the western media did their best during the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda to inform the world about the tragedy as it unfolded. Since then, they continued to report on Rwanda, albeit losing their much-coveted role of agenda setting due to public admiration of the country’s extraordinary progress and they have since been forced to follow audience interests in reporting about the country.

As if fighting to gain more ground in the agenda-setting role or for other reasons best known to them, the nature of western media coverage on Rwanda needs more attention than it has received so far.

Set in western elitism some of them have failed on basic principles of contextual journalism and are guilty of approaching reporting on Rwanda in a fallacious bandwagoning fashion.

This has sometimes led some of them to report false stories and to distort others. With a strange remote control approach under the pretext of promoting democracy and human rights, they seek to construct and advance a certain discourse that is as irrelevant as it is entirely out of touch with the reality on the ground.

Could this be due to having no correspondents on the ground, or to the fact that they are not bothered about the consequences of unsubstantiated coverage about a ‘periphery’ country like Rwanda? I like to believe there are some among them who are unaware of this fact and attitude.

In just about 100 days from April 1994, Rwanda lost more than one million people in ethnic bloodbath masterminded by politicians and the local media machine. The genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda is perhaps the most vicious and brutal murder ever known to human imagination.

The international community found it expedient to turn its back at repeated warnings and calls to prevent and later, to stop the killings. When it comes to the genocide in Rwanda and its immediate aftermath, the international community was at its most apathetic level known in modern history.

When the defeated regime and its army started to recruit, train and receive heavy ammunition of all kind in the refugee camps across the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world community again did nothing to stop the impending tragedy, yet it was their explicit obligation under international law. Rwanda was forced to act in self-defense.

Now 17 years on, there is no doubt that, as any society especially in Africa, Rwanda still faces a number of challenges. Some of them are incredibly unique and intractable in nature, but the country has rebuilt itself from a near failed state in 1994 to one of the most visionary, efficient, and stable governments on any continent.

Due to socially cohesive and responsive policies since genocide, there is an unprecedented economic growth and social development. Rwanda is increasingly seen as one of the most peaceful, stable, secure and socially innovative countries in Africa and beyond. This continues to lead to more progress through agricultural improvements, improved public services, business growth and by attracting more investments. From what Rwandans and visitors see on the ground and what I continue to see in the media, I keep wondering when will the western media catch up with Rwanda?

It is astonishing to see how quickly and easily we humans are capable of forgetting! A new type of recklessness by the western media with the potential to foment a situation like the one the country went through only 17 years ago with its dire consequences is emerging! While positive criticism and debate are good for Rwanda and for any other society, for many media outlet in the west it seems that having a big name has subconsciously substituted for the credibility of specific news stories they cover on Rwanda. Their analysis overtakes (and is sometimes short of) basic evidence.

Thus, for instance, intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo to disrupt and dismantle the genocidal force and prevent a potentially worse situation is reconstructed as a campaign to access that country’s natural resources. Intercepting a couple of journalists and politicians with hard evidence for “predicting” that another genocide will happen soon and calling people to action is ironically reported to the outside world as restricting media and political freedoms.

Basic, commonsense regulation is not a concept found in Rwanda alone and it should not be confused with repression. More than anything else genocide represents the depth to which morality and politics descended in the country at the time.

Critics need to see that nurturing decency and a national interest outlook in Rwanda’s politics and media cannot be an exception to all other areas in which the society is expected to rebuild and establish to transcend transitory events for the sake of sustainability.

Rwanda needs and welcomes constructive criticism not the kind of stereotypical and shotgun coverage by some western media that it so often receives. Despite the reach of globalisation and the universal principles we all cherish, we still live within multiple realities of our histories, politics, economies and cultures that single option interpretations and prescriptions to the problems we face simply cannot apply.

Democracy and human rights principles should not be applied as if they were commodities with specific mathematical sizes or particular colours. Rwandans have reconciled and put their past behind them. BUT, just like post-World War II and holocaust West, they have drawn a line in the sand regarding hate media and divisive politics and there is no contradiction in the two aspects. It is simply the right thing to do.

Thus, failure to appreciate that reality and unique context in news reporting by the western media and individual journalists will only reflect lack of empathy, harshness and insensitivity to the very people whose interests they claim to advocate and this might deprive them of professional and moral authority.

Source: http://wwwrwandaheritagefoundation.blogspot.com/2011/05/rwanda-when-will-western-media-catch-up.html?spref=fb

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