'Godi' Media, Beware of the Fate of German, Rwandan Journalists
Some people don’t want to learn from history, and India’s key media players appear to be among them. They are spreading hatred and fake news to divide society the same way certain European and African journalists had done before, only to be jailed or executed for crimes against humanity.
By Syed Khalid Husain
(Special to India Tomorrow)
THE vast majority of India’s mainstream electronic media appears to be repeating the same mistake that some German and Rwandan journalists had committed in the 1930s and 1990s, respectively -- spewing the venom of hatred against their countries’ minority community, inciting the majority community against the minority, and spreading false and fake news about them, while promoting their despots’ diabolic agenda of ethnic cleansing.
If unchecked, journalists and anchors of more than a dozen Indian television news channels, collectively called “godi” or laptop media because of their unabashed support for the ruling elite, may eventually face the same fate as did the German and Rwandan journalists if their relentless campaign of spreading hatred against Muslims lead to bloodshed, mayhem and massacres in the country.
Prominent among these TV news outlets are English channels Republic TV, Times Now, India Today, Wion and CNN-News18, and Hindi channels Zee News, India TV, AajTak, ABP News, Republic Bharat, Sudershan News, News Nation and News24 (India).
In Nazi Germany, six million people were massacred before World War II and in Rwanda, almost 800,000 people were killed in a genocide in 1994. The media of these countries had played a major role in preparing, motivating, inciting and accelerating the violence that led to these genocides.
In Germany, a Nazi demagogue and politician, Julius Streicher, had gained infamy as one of the most virulent advocates of the persecution of Jews. His virulently anti-semitic weekly newspaper, Der Stürmer, had become a central element of the Nazi propaganda machine. It had poisoned the minds of thousands of Germans, leading them to follow the Nazi Party’s policy of Jewish persecution and extermination.
As the founder and editor of Der Stürmer, Streicher had used films and cartoons to incite hatred against Jews. The paper’s special Ritual Murder issue had alleged a full conspiracy by Jews to kill Christians and collect their blood for religious services, with its cover having an artwork showing Jews collecting Christians’ blood.
He had published three books for children, including the infamous Giftpilz (The Poisonous Mushroom) which aimed to show children how dangerous Jews are to them. As a politician, Streicher had also helped organise a one-day boycott of Jewish businesses in 1933.
Streicher’s crude anti-Jewish invective had provided a focus for Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler’s persecutory racial policies. He had continued to serve as editor of Der Stürmer throughout World War II owing to Hitler’s protection of him. In 1938, his paper had reached its high point in terms of circulation (TRP in today’s terminology for TV channels) and he had become a multi-millionaire.
But after the collapse of Germany, Streicher was charged with war crimes before the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg. In 1946, he was convicted and executed for his role in the death of six million people.
Some six decades later, in 2003, three Rwandans journalists were jailed for their roles in fuelling the 1994 genocide in the African country. The majority Hutus had massacred 800,000 minority Tutsis and moderate Hutus with knives, clubs and other weapons over 100 days. They had been incited by the media to carry out the slaughter in an organised manner.
The UN International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) had sentenced Ferdinand Nahimana, 53, a founding member of Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM), to life in prison along with Hassan Ngeze, 42, owner and editor of the Hutu extremist newspaper Kangura. Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza, 53, another RTLM executive, was given a 35-year jail term.
The trio’s landmark three-year trial highlighted the media’s role in directing Rwandans to kill their fellow countrymen. The three men had turned their media into weapons of war by soaking their journalism in ethnic hatred. The use of “hate media”, acting as propaganda outlets of the Hutus, had influenced ordinary Rwandans -- even children and grandparents -- to participate in the killings.
In 2009, yet another RTLM journalist was jailed for life for encouraging the Hutus to slaughter the Tutsis. Valerie Bemeriki was found guilty of inciting, planning and complicity in murder and genocide. In one broadcast, she had told her listeners: “Do not kill those cockroaches with a bullet -- cut them to pieces with a machete.”
In 2000, Belgian journalist Georges Ruggiu was jailed for 20 years after pleading guilty to direct and public incitement to commit genocide. He admitted that RTLM broadcasts incited young Rwandans, soldiers and a far-right Hutu militiamen to massacre the Tutsis.
And just this month (May 2020), French police arrested 84-year-old Felicien Kabuga near Paris after a decades-long hunt for allegedly playing a key role in the Rwanda genocide.
Kabuga, who ran RTLM, is accused of financing the killings. He was indicted by the ICTR in 1997 on seven counts, including genocide. His arrest is a reminder that those responsible for genocide can be brought to account, even decades after their crimes.
RTLM, which had close ties with extremist Hutu politicians and the interim government that presided over the genocide, had played a significant role in these mass killings. Also known as Radio Machete, it broadcast the names and addresses of members of the Tutsis and of the Hutus who sympathised with them. Its editorial policy was to “diabolise” the Tutsi-dominated Rwandan Patriotic Front and its supporters.
Ferdinand sometimes used phrases that had hidden meanings. One such phrase was “cut all tall trees”, which was a sign for the Hutus to start the slaughter of the Tutsis.
Kangura magazine had spread anti-Tutsi propaganda and tales of Hutu superiority. It had also published the Hutu 10 Commandments which asked people to exterminate the “cockroach Tutsis”.
RTLM and Kangura had exploited the already divided society due to a mostly artificial ethnic distinction and intended to “exterminate” the Tutsi population. Besides disseminating hate propaganda, RTLM had mobilised ordinary Hutu citizens to turn against their Tutsi neighbours, colleagues, friends and even their own family members.
The radio station gave the starting sign to kill “the cockroaches”, the term used to refer to Tutsi Rwandans. It even gave specific directions for carrying out the killings.
Lesson for Scribes
In striking similarities with the German and Rwandan journalists, India’s “godi” media anchors target and spread hatred against Muslims as well as inciting Hindus against them, accuse Muslim vendors of spreading the coronavirus by spitting on fruits and vegetables, call Tablighi Jamaat people as dirty and spreaders of Covid-19 by spitting and accuse them of exposing themselves before medical staff. All this has caused so much hatred against Muslims among extremist Hindus that many of them have become vigilantes and abuse Muslims, shut their businesses and chase away Muslim fruit and vegetable sellers from Hindu localities.
The German and Rwandan journalists’ case serves as a lesson to the global journalist community as it warns of the consequences of inciting hatred and violence. As chief Rwandan prosecutor Hassan Bubacar Jallow had rightly said, if the media uses its power to attack ethnic or racial groups, it will have to face justice.
The Indian authorities need to rein in the above TV channels and make them accountable before their policies lead to more bloodshed and massacre of Muslims in the country, and their anchors face the fate of the German and Rwandan journalists.
— The writer is a Singapore-based senior journalist. The views are personal. He may be reached at [email protected]