Former UN chief says media aided genocide

By Emma Farge

Western press coverage in Rwanda 11 years ago “contributed to the
genocide itself”, according to former head of UN peacekeeping forces in
the country, General Romeo Dallaire.

Speaking in London at the launch of his book, Shake Hands with the
Devil, he said: “In the field there were some good things happening,
but they were not making it past the editor’s desk.”

Dallaire
(pictured above) campaigned ineffectively to draw international aid to
Rwanda despite warnings to UN superiors of the imminent genocide three
months in advance. Up to one million Tutsis were later murdered in the
space of 100 days.

Dallaire, who was recently played by Nick
Nolte in the film Hotel Rwanda, believes the media had the power to
stop the unfolding crisis in the country.

“In the third week it
became obvious to me that the only influence I had left was the media.
I turned to them. The media had the power to shame the international
community to action.

“They responded not to a catastrophic thing
but exciting information. There was more time offered to OJ Simpson and
Tonya Harding. They did not push the information forward.

“It was
like there was some cabal between governments and the media and CNN. It
could have had a massive impact. Editors decided to keep it at a low
profile and not bring it to the attention of the international
community.

The western press’s coverage contributed to the genocide itself.”

When
asked about the coverage of the UK media in particular, he told Press
Gazette: “The BBC was the only one that stayed. Mark Doyle [a BBC
foreign correspondent[ was there until the end.”

Dallaire added
that the international media are still making the same mistakes with
Africa and drew parallels with the situation in Darfur, Sudan.

He
said: “I am shocked that 11 years later, the tsunami received
over-coverage at exactly the same time there were more people suffering
in another genocide in Darfur.”

Relations between the media and the UN must be improved in order to handle genocide more effectively, he said.

“It
perceives the media as an enemy when it could be a friend. We have to
work with them to make things change and we can’t keep poo-pooing them.

The UN is 20 or 30 years behind where it should be with press relations. The media is the most important tool.”

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