Iconic hero Amitabh Bachchan delivered a solemn line in the film Hum- ʻʻIss duniya mein do tarah ka keeda hota hai. Ek woh jo kachre se uthta hai. Aur doosra woh jo paap ki gandagi se uthta hai. Kachre waala keeda insaan ko bimaar kar deta hai. Magar paap ki gandagi ka keeda saare samaaj ko bimaar kar deta hai. Kachre ke keede ko maarne ke liye bazaar mein flit milta hai. Magar paap ka keede ko marne wala flit saala bana hi nahi aaj tak”. It’s an observation that’s veridical and echoes reality. There are two types of viruses. One that is germinating from trash, another that is born of the scum of sin. If human beings are infected by the first, there is a cure. If the society is infected by the second, there is indubitably no antidote available.
We are battling two viruses – Coronavirus and Communal virus. Media madness is taking over the country, turning otherwise normal, reasonable, loving people into hatemongers. Today, there is continuing debate about the role of the news anchors in the pandemic – from the role of relaying stories that foster hope, healing, and resilience to fuelling ethnic hatred. A history of communal riots has taught little to revive comatose media which proliferates venomous rhetorics, polarizing and inflammatory agendas.
During the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, radio journalists played a prominent role in inciting ordinary citizens to take part in a ghastly genocide that killed an estimated 800,000 Rwandans. Animosity and ethnic tensions between Rwanda’s Tutsi minority and the Hutu majority had been long-smoldering since 1959 exodus, where 200,000 minority Tutsis fled to neighboring Burundi. Since then, skirmishes between the two tribes often led to periodic massacres of Tutsis by the Hutus in power. In 1990, Rwanda witnessed a civil war where exiled Tutsis forayed to gain control of the country from the Hutus.
The shooting down of the plane carrying Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana and his Burundian counterpart Cyprien Ntaryamira on April 6, 1994, triggered the Rwandan genocide, which was carried out against Rwanda’s Tutsi community. In the aftermath of his murder, Rwanda witnessed ethnic cleansing where some 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were slaughtered within 100 days and another 2 million Hutus fled to neighboring Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo). During this time, some of the country’s media mainly radio broadcasters and newspapers from Hutu clan instigated murders of the members of the rival tribe -Tutsi.
The worst perpetrators of this “hate media” were two major notorious radio stations – Radio Rwanda, and Radio Television des Milles Collines (RTLM), that spewed venom to the illiterate masses. Radio Rwanda – being the government-owned radio station, it was prohibited from spawning poisonous anti-Tutsi propaganda. The private radio station – RTLM was sponsored and run by hard-liner Hutu party officials, including President Habyarimana and his wife. RTLM’s motormouths’ pontification on anti-Tutsi disinformation, their charged and venomous rhetorics, their polarizing and inflammatory extremist Hutu messages, attracted the unemployed youth and Interhamwe militia. Radio Rwanda also began to advance similar incendiary broadcasts which were a part of a larger sinister attempt to exterminate Tutsis.
Vitriolic statements were broadcast by Radio Rwanda with the intention of inciting prejudice and hate, issuing directives on how and where to kill Tutsis, and congratulating those who had already taken part. Radio journalists explicitly called for Tutsis to be killed and exposed their hiding places. Phrases like “go to work” and “the graves are not yet full” were read by radio DJs during the spring of 1994. A newspaper called on citizens to exterminate the “cockroach Tutsis”.
Rwanda is now the fastest growing country in 54 countries across the continent. Its president, Paula Kagame, who belongs to the Tutsi dynasty, talks of bringing all the tribes together. April 7 marked 25 years since the start of the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda. Irresponsible media led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus until they were forced off the air by the Rwanda Patriotic Front’s military victories. A 2009 Harvard Kennedy School study estimated that 51,000 people participated in the violence as a direct result of propaganda transmitted by the infamous Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines.
Now, a quarter-century after the genocide, perhaps the country is ready for a new era of the democratic process and free expression, in which Rwandan reporters are using journalism to promote peace, recovery, and unity. They want to prevent a similar tragedy from reoccurring by resorting to being hate media outlets.
The Indian media is treading the same path as Rwandan media did a quarter-century ago. The recent media outburst on the Muslim community and labeling them as Corona Jihadists has shades of overtones of Rwandan hate media and the media completely failed to learn the lessons from the Rwandan genocide. Survival is the name of the game and many media outlets are more willing to exploit the already divided society due to a mostly ethnic distinction rather than protecting the weak and minority besides upholding freedom and democracy. Social media is on overdrive targeting a specific community to the extent that fruits and vegetable sellers of a particular community are barred from entering certain localities. Media should recognize the harm they caused in the killing of over 1 million people.
Media always feel that sections of the IPC exist at their beck and call and eventually, nothing happens to them after spewing venom. Courts might rap a few knuckles, and after that, it’s business as usual. Encouraging the line of extremism by famous news anchors does not fit the narrative of shiny India. What is more disturbing is news anchors are getting away with deeply disturbing polarized hate remarks. The repercussions of hate propaganda are frightening especially if done by mainstream media. Our country could do well if our government can reign these rogue elements from loose talks.