Melvern, Linda — The Hate Radio: Radio-Télévision Libre Des Milles Collines

Melvern, Linda. “The Hate Radio: Radio-Télévision Libre Des Milles Collines.” A People Betrayed: The Role of the West in Rwanda’s Genocide. Cape Town: NAEP, 2000.  Print.

The Radio Network Radio-Télévision Libre Des Milles Collines (RTLMC) began broadcasting in Rwanda in June 1993. The station was known as “rowdy” and diplomats dismissed it as a joke. Noel Hitimana, was drunk during some of the broadcasts and would make crass remarks. The radio station did not actually broadcast factual reports, and catered to the unemployed, delinquents and gangs in the militia. Ferdinand Nahimana was largely responsible for the style of the RTLMC. RTMLC began broadcasting at a time when radios suddenly became cheap and widely available in Rwanda – therefore the broadcast had a large audience that was very entertained. However, RTMLC was “founded by Hutu extremists.” Its list of shareholders consists mainly of businessman, bank managers, journalists, army officers and government officials. The president was the largest shareholder. The purpose of the radio station was to launch a propaganda campaign against the Tutsi. RTLMC broadcasted the names of certain government opponents, and said that those individuals “deserved to die” (71). According to the RTMLC, the Tutsi were lazy foreign invaders who refused to work. French and American ambassadors were against taking action against the RTMLC. The U.S. ambassador said that the U.S.A. believed in freedom of speech. The president of the board of directors of RTLMC, Felicien Kabuga, also financed Kagura, a weekly newspaper that was known for carrying hate propaganda about Tutsis. For example, in 1990, Kagura published the famous Hutu Ten Commandments which were basically instructions on how to mistreat Tutsis. The Belgian ambassador, Johan Swinnen, warned Belgium that RTMLC was destabilizing the country and even wanted all broadcasts to be intercepted and translated, but there was not even staff to carry this out.

This chapter in this book is about the failure of the West to act in Rwanda reveals an alarming fact: that the incitement against Tutsis was considered by some, including the United States of America, a legal right of the Hutu extremists because of their belief in free speech. However, I object – isn’t using language that dehumanizes the Tutsi (calling them cockroaches) considered violent? The language makes them seem as if they are not even human. This chapter touches very briefly on a huge part of the Rwandan genocide: how language was used by a handful of powerful and wealthy Hutu extremists to incite hatred towards the Tutsi in a large portion of the Hutu population. It was not limited to radio broadcasts – this type of propaganda found its way into print media far before RTMLC was established.

The main takeaway point from this chapter is that sometimes even when violent language is used, it is impossible to actually take the people who used that language with malicious intent and prosecute them or charge them with any sort of crime. The West especially is known for being a major proponent of free speech, and prosecuting anyone for that sort of thing may set a dangerous precedent and cause problems back home. However, it is important at this point to understand the meaning of free speech. What is free speech exactly? It is generally understood as the right to express opinions without any fear of censorship. It was introduced mainly as a move to allow political discourse without any fear of being killed from an opposing party and such. So should it really cover extremists who clearly have every intent to murder those who they are speaking ill of? The reality is that, of course, free speech should not include hate speech. Despite the warnings of the Belgian ambassador that the radio station was causing chaos, no one acted to stop the broadcast in time. By the time that the ambassador was able to convince everyone to analyze the transcripts, there was not enough personnel to get the job done.

This chapter also brings up another point: sometimes things occur in genocides and other tragic events that cannot be measured. It would be very difficult to measure the exact effects that the radio broadcasts had on the genocide, but it is undeniable that it played a major role in the mobilizing of the general Hutu population.

–Beejal Ved

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