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How and why did the media fail in the Rwandan genocide in 1994

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In the first week of the Rwandan genocide, the reporting by the international media had a number of flaws. First, the international media thought the genocide was a civil war. Between 1990 and 1993, the country had experienced a low-level civil war, and the international media mistook the genocide for a full-scale civil war. Rwanda has a long history of animosity between the Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority that dates back to the late 1950s. On this note, when the violence erupted on April 6, 1994, the international media reported the initial violence in the country’s capital city as a resumption of civil war between Hutu majority and the Tutsi minority.

In addition, early reports from the western media indicated that the Tutsi rebels had overpowered the government and rejected any notion of a cease-fire from the Hutu-led government. As such, the report by the Western media contradicted the idea that the real victims were the Tutsi minority. By 13th April, 1994, for instance, the Radio France International claimed that Kigali was falling in the hands of the Tutsi Rebels (Schimmel, 2011).

In other Western Media organisations, it was reported that the Hutu feared vengeance from the Tutsi rebels. This created a situation where the western media presented a picture that violence in Rwanda was on the wane while, in reality, the violence was mounting (Schimmel, 2011). In another example that depicts how the international media failed in the Rwandan genocide; the New York Times alluded just four days into the genocide that the violence in Kigali had reduced. These contradictory reports were as a result of the mass exodus of foreigners from Rwanda at that time, including the international correspondents from various international media organisations.

In addition, because of the exodus, the press coverage of the events taking place in Rwanda was virtually halted. However, at the time that the media coverage of the violence in Rwanda was halted, this is the period when the massacre of Tutsis heightened (Schoemaker & Stremlau, 2014). On the other hand, the early death count reported by the media was an underestimation of the reality of events taking place across the country. In the second week of the genocide, the media still did not have the actual estimates, and the death count reported never increased.

As such, the death count reported by the media was not considered genocidal for a country that had a population of approximately 8million of which 85% were Hutus and 14% Tutsis (Yanagizawa-Drott, 2014).

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