Rwanda and Reporting Africa

  • Graham Spencer


The Rwandan genocide of 1994, where 800,000 people were slaughted in 100 days, raises important questions about Western political indifference to conflicts which lack strategic interest and indicates problems with news reporting of Africa. What this chapter sets out to do is question the political background to the genocide, UN and US prevarications over intervention, and the role of news in relation to the genocide and how the West responded to it. Inside Rwanda, local radio played an important function in the planning and exacerbation of the genocide, and was used by the Hutu elite to encourage the systematic murder of the Tutsi minority. Radio broadcasts were a clear sign that genocide was being co-ordinated, yet failed to incite outside action or intervention. Western indifference to the developing genocide was barely challenged by the media, which failed to cover the slaughter until it had transmuted into a humanitarian disaster and a refugee crisis. This reaction by the news media to Rwanda is in keeping with a broader lack of concern with Africa, consistent with coverage which continues to view such conflicts as ethnic hatreds, and which fails to capture audience interest. Tribal differences, racial distinctions, civil wars and colonial histories are factors too complex for the requirements of simplistic news reports, and so do not merit careful deconstruction. As BBC correspondent Fergal Keane summarized this tendency in his book Seasons of Blood (about the Rwandan experience):

Where television is concerned, African news is generally only big news when it involves lots of dead bodies. The bigger the mound, the greater the possibility that the world will, however briefly, send its camera teams and correspondents. Once the story has gone ‘stale’, i.e. there are no new bodies and the refugees are down to a trickle, the circus moves on. The powerful images leave us momentarily horrified but largely ignorant, what somebody memorably described as ‘compassion without understanding’.


News Medium Television News Compassion Fatigue Clinton Administration Refugee Crisis 
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Copyright information

© Graham Spencer 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Graham Spencer
    • 1
  1. 1.School of Creative Arts, Film and MediaUniversity of PortsmouthUK

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