As someone who lived in Kenya and reported from the killing fields of Rwanda during the 1994 genocide, I was distressed to see the report from VOA Nairobi Correspondent Alisha Ryu on the emergence of “hate radios” in Kenya: http://www.voanews.com/english/2008-01-30-voa38.cfm
As the report filed this week notes, “Media monitors in Kenya say inflammatory statements and songs broadcast on local language radio stations have contributed significantly to the surge in post-election ethnic violence that has killed nearly 900 people and displaced 255,000 others during the past month.”
It’s alarming because, as Alisha mentions, “the broadcasts bear a striking similarity to 1994 broadcasts in Rwanda that helped whip ethnic Hutus into a killing frenzy that resulted in the genocide of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis.”
In some of those Rwandan broadcasts, ethnic Tutsis were derogatorily described as “cockroaches.”
In Kenya, as VOA’s correspondent reports, “On one Kalenjin-language station, some callers said there was a need for people of the milk to cut grass, which [a] Kenyan rights group says was a call for ethnic Kalenjins, who are cattle herders, to remove ethnic Kikuyus from traditional Kalenjin homelands in the Rift Valley province."
"Other Kalenjin callers referred to ethnic Kikuyus living in the Rift Valley as… a mongoose that came to steal Kalenjin chicken. Meanwhile, a Luo-language station, which supports ethnic Luo opposition leader Raila Odinga, aired a song that called Kenya's ethnic Kikuyu President Mwai Kibaki and his Kikuyu-dominated Cabinet a leadership of baboons.”
We at VOA feel it is important to expose such messages of hate.
The Board of Broadcasting Governors, which oversees the Voice of America, feels the same way.
In a mission statement, approved in September 2007, the BBG said the goal of U.S. international broadcasting is “to promote freedom and democracy and to enhance understanding through multi-media communication of accurate, objective, and balanced news, information, and other programming about America and the world to audiences overseas.”
The statement lists several standards by which to measure the success of this effort. Besides “serving as an example of a free and professional press” and “fostering respect for human rights,” it makes clear that VOA should also work to stem “religious and ethnic intolerance” and specifically strive to combat “hate media.”
And the best way we can do that is to report on hate messages --- and those who deliver them --- whenever and wherever they appear.