It was the French philosopher, Voltaire, who wrote: 'We owe respect to the living; to the dead we owe only truth.'
In the case of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the news media accomplished neither of Voltaire's admonitions. Confronted by Rwanda's horrors, Western news media for the most part turned away, then muddled the story when they did pay attention. And hate media organs in Rwanda–through their journalists, broadcasters and media executives–played an instrumental role in laying the groundwork for genocide, then actively participated in the extermination campaign.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, the School of Journalism and Communication at Carleton University in Ottawa hosted a one-day symposium on 13 March 2004, entitled 'The Media and the Rwanda Genocide.' The symposium examined in tandem the role of both the international media and Rwanda's domestic news organizations in the cataclysmic events of 1994. The Carleton symposium brought together for the first time an international collection of experts as well as some of the actors from the Rwandan drama; it also inspired this collection of papers. Many of the contributions found here are based on papers delivered at the Carleton event, but others were commissioned or have been reprinted here because of their valuable contribution to the debate.
The symposium was made possible by generous contributions from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) and the Government of Canada, through the Global Issues Bureau of the Foreign Affairs department and the Canadian International Development Agency. The IDRC has also played a key role in the publication of this collection; it continues to support Carleton's efforts to build a Media and Genocide Archive and to establish a partnership with the School of Journalism and Communication at the National University of Rwanda in Butare through a project called The Rwanda Initiative.
I would like to thank all those who contributed to the symposium and to this collection, most notably the authors of the papers you are about to read. Special thanks are due to Chris Dornan, who was director of the School of Journalism and Communication when this project began, Pamela Scholey and Bill Carman from the IDRC, Roméo Dallaire, who lent considerable moral support to this project, and Sandra Garland, who did wonderful work as a copy-editor. Finally, I would like to thank my wife Roula El-Rifai and our son, Laith Rifai-Thompson. My passion for Rwanda has often consumed time and energy that should have been devoted to my family.
For my part, I came to Rwanda late. Before joining the faculty at Carleton in 2003, I was a career journalist with the Toronto Star. I was not in Rwanda . . .