BBC journalists as Genocide deniers and promoters. Open Letter to Tim Cooke of the BBC World Service

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Mr Tim Cooke, on 4th June 2008, you sent me an open letter. Initially, I felt no importance to respond to it. Today, December 9, 2008-over six months later, I have changed my mind. It is the day when the world commemorates the 60th anniversary of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

It is pertinent to get and read this comeback on this day. I changed my mind because on the commemoration of such an important landmark, I believe it is necessary for us all to reflect on our collective responsibility to liberate mankind from genocide which the convention’s preamble describes as “an odious scourge”.

If you happen to find this letter a bit longer than expected, please bear with me, because I could not make it shorter than the message it is meant to convey.

Mr Cooke, your letter opened my eyes and showed me that the leadership of the BBC, especially those in charge of information regarding the Great Lakes, still have so much to learn. You wrote me instead of the person who should have written to me. And, unfortunately, the letter you wrote to me is a disservice to the BBC.

In your letter, you seem to be telling me that the fact of repeatedly denouncing the faults of your journalists, like Mugenzi Ally Yussuf, is part of a project to belittle the BBC radio. The word “BBC” appears 19 times in this letter and the “Great Lakes Service” 8 times. However, there is no mention at all of “Gahuzamiryango”, as the Rwandans know it. And yet, the problem concerns the programme Gahuzamiryango rather than the BBC in its entirety. There are other problems with your letter, but they are not so serious to demand a response.

Even if you have the right to defend the radio for which you are working, you should have first asked questions about the damage done by some of the people who are invited to speak on the BBC Gahuzamiryango, and you should have looked for the best way to resolve the issue, rather than to write me an insulting letter which does not serve the interests of the Rwandan people, of the BBC or your professional interests.

Advice Which is Not Useful   

Since you have chosen to play the devil’s advocate, you should have taken the trouble to be better informed. I will now give you the necessary background. You should know that this controversy has existed for several years. It’s a long time since I have been trying to talk to those who damage the image of the BBC, like Mugenzi, who by the way I know well, in order to solve the problems without things becoming too public. I am convinced that they do a disservice to this radio which I like and whose programmes, in Swahili and English, I used to follow for many years, before the appearance of the Kinyarwanda and Kirundi service.

I tried everything, but in vain. At the end, the difficulties became apparent. A summary of the exchanges between myself and Mugenzi, is reflected in the letter I wrote to him (in Kinyarwanda) on 20 March 2008. Below are some excerpts from this letter in which I tried to set things out as simply as possible, even if I’m the one who had been wronged.

“  … We don’t usually write to each other, since we normally speak on the telephone or ask about each other when we meet. The last time was in the afternoon of 13 March 2008. Since then, I have waited all this time for you to apologize for the hurt you caused me, and for your insults on the telephone. Afterwards, I called you twice to ask how you were, but you didn’t even want to talk to me. When you telephoned on 13 March, it was the second time that week, and you know the reasons why. 

I was not expecting to be insulted. Nor did I expect you to make it clear that you did not want to hear the useful advice I was giving you.  I think that was the only way you thought you could evade the real problem. 

You will also recall that it was the second time I invited you for a public debate on the airwaves, and you declined the invitation. If you had listened to me, you would have known that there is a genuine problem that cannot be ignored. …Irrespective of your behaviour, this was something that I could not give up on.  That’s why I wrote to you a week after our last telephone conversation. What you did not want me to say to you verbally, I will now say to you in writing. I have explained to you on two occasions why I think it is very important that we talk. The reason was to exchange views about a long-standing problem on BBC radio, especially Gahuzamiryango for which you are responsible, and whose programme, “Imvo n’Imvano” you prepare.

The first time, you told me that you had to consult with the radio’s lawyers to know whether you should respond. You told me that a discussion with me would be a trap that I had set for you. I have no desire to set any kind of trap for you. Isn’t it rather you who want to set a trap for your listeners? Your determination to avoid speaking to me on the telephone, or to challenge each other on the radio is proof that you fear responding publicly to the question you know very well, and which you don’t want to resolve, and which I have put to you more than once. Not only did you not want to listen to me, but you persisted in the mistakes that you should have corrected, or at least avoided. And that’s another reason which pushed me to write to you.  

Dear Colleague, as someone I know well, and with whom I lived for a long time, I am telling you, and I have repeatedly been telling you since 2004, that I think  Gahuzamiryango is taking many Rwandans a step backwards because it has become a forum for those who deny the genocide. And furthermore, some people use this radio to sow hatred and to promote the ideology of genocide. 

Dear colleague, in this first letter I am writing you, I would, in the first place, like to  respond to the question that you put to me, and in return to ask you some questions, always with the intention of finding a solution to the problem that the ideology of genocide is being propagated through the BBC’s Gahuzamiryango. And if I’m the one who’s mistaken, then let that error be aired. 

You asked who I am, and what right I have to tell you who to speak with, or not speak with. Straightaway, I responded that it is my conscience, and my unwavering determination to fight the genocide which give me this right. There were other things I did not say at the time: 

a)    As a Rwandan, I have the responsibility to fight the ideology of genocide wherever it manifests itself. It’s also your responsibility, or at least it should be, as a human being in the first place and then as someone who works in the media. To exchange ideas on this subject would be a means of helping us in the struggle.

b)    Secondly, I say it as someone who is capable of correcting the mistakes you are making. Of course, this is only possible if you are willing to recognize that there is a serious issue and if those responsible for these mistakes acknowledge them. 

c)    In the third place, I am saying it to you as someone I’ve known for a long time and with whom I had agreed on many points. There are certain journalists who worked with you, or who didn’t work with you, whose extremism you criticised. I couldn’t say anything to them because I did not think that writing to them was the best way to give them advice. 

d)    In the fourth place, I knew you as an honest and sensible journalist, so much so that I wonder how you cannot understand that to propagate an ideology as dangerous as that of genocide is both dangerous and shameful. On more than one occasion, I have told you that to let the spokespersons for the genocidaires or the representatives of their associations speak on your radio is a horror. When I was telling you this, I thought I was giving advice to a friend whose responsibility was to promote sensible information. I pointed out some of these associations to you, for example RDR (led up to today by Umuhoza Ingabire Victoire) who are always changing their names in the hope of hiding who they are. You told me that they consist of opposition political parties and that you speak with them in order to provide information which is impartial.   

I gave you some documents and suggested some others to help you understand that RDR and FDLR are, since their inception, associations of genocidaires who are trying, in vain, to camouflage themselves. In a meeting that took place here in Kigali in 2005, you told me that there was no harm if these troublemakers speak on your radio and even suggested to put them in touch with me for a debate on BBC-Gahuzamiryango. I told you that for me, it would be humiliating, and would betray my conscience, because it would mean giving value to the cruelty of the RDR and to all those who have lost all their value as human beings…”

Mr.Cooke, I hope I have adequately set out the nature of the problem and my contribution in the search for solutions.

You Do Not Understand the Problem

Mr.Cooke, you told me that I don’t understand anything, and that I am poorly informed, and therefore what I had said has no foundation. It seems to me that you decided to adopt outrage as a defence, but about something that you do not even know anything. This can only be out of ignorance, or from lack of respect, or both at the same time.

What you wrote to me reveals ignorance on your part. Ignorance about the past of certain journalists of the BBC Gahuzamiryango, and their contribution to a culture of hatred and to dissemination of the ideology of genocide. Ignorance of the language used. And the little you know has been given to you by those who have an interest in hiding their culpability.

But it also reveals lack of respect because you dared to write to me things that you know perfectly well are not true. There is lack of respect for those to whom you sent copies of these falsehoods. And, lack of respect for yourself and for the radio which put its confidence in you.

In reality, your fundamental difficulty is that you do not understand the problem. You seem to be telling me that I am exaggerating when I tell you that prominent genocidaires are often given a platform by the BBC. You criticise me for citing only the former Prime Minister, Jean Kambanda.

Mr. Cooke, you say that this happened in 2004, and that to speak of it today is to confuse things and to spoil the image of the BBC. In addition, you pretend that I should no longer speak about it because the BBC has settled the issue with the Rwandan State. In fact, when the Government of Rwanda complained, a detailed investigation was carried out and the BBC apologised. Have you forgotten this by chance?

In the first place, to speak of Kambanda by recalling only that he is “the former Prime Minister” is already for me a grave mistake which was unfortunately committed wittingly. And if it was not that, then why did you make such an error? It was absolutely necessary to specify that he held this position in the government that perpetrated the genocide. He himself recognized and pleaded guilty to this. To omit it, by presenting him as a politician imprisoned somewhere for having committed an ordinary crime, is to mislead those who might be unaware of it, or who might have forgotten it.

And if I speak of Kambanda, it is because there is a connection with one of your journalists, Vénuste Nshimiyimana. They have a lot in common, apart from spreading propaganda on behalf of the genocidaires. If I don’t make reference to the others, it is not because I do not know them, but because I don’t think it is necessary. The broadcast was prepared by a BBC journalist and was transmitted by the BBC’s Gahuzamiryango. If you want to know, or to remember the names of the other four genocidaires, you only have to ask your own staff. One of them will no doubt rush to see you.

In any case, I am not taking an exam, and I hope the next time you will not be asking me where you work.

There are other things you wrote, but I didn’t see their relevance. For example, when you say that Nshimiyimana left Imvo n’Imvano a long time ago. What is the purpose of such information which has no correlation with the problem of journalists who use the radio with the intention of helping the proponents of the ideology of genocide? Whether he works there or not is not the issue. The fact that he left a long time ago does not lessen the faults he committed. He abused his profession by allowing genocidaires to use it as an opportunity to brag about their ignoble acts instead of seeking forgiveness. Is that honesty? Rather, it is shameful.

There is something else that made me realize you have not grasped the problem: it’s the way you consider someone like Dr. Ignace Murwanashyaka. This Murwanashyaka and the FDLR, which he leads, have adopted the ideology of genocide and the denial of genocide, as their policy. I know a lot about them and other people who know FDLR like I do have written about them.

As someone who deals with information in the Great Lakes region, you should make an effort to find out what is happening there, and what is being said about it. One of the examples is the journalist Chris McGreal who has written about FDLR and their dreadful activities in Congo. He explains the objectives of FDLR. You only have to read the article which appeared in The Guardian on 16 May 2008 entitled ‘‘We have to kill Tutsis wherever they are.” You can read it on:   http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/may/16/congo.rwanda

There is also the research by ‘‘Conflict & Transition Consultancies”, such as the report entitled “Opportunities and Constraints for the Disarmament & Repatriation of the Foreign Armed Groups in the Democratic Republic of Congo-The cases of the: FDLR, FNL, and ADF/NALU’’. Their report which was published in June 2007 at the request of the secretariat of the ‘‘Multi-Country Demobilisation and Reintegration Programme (MDRP)’’, makes it very clear that FDLR is an organization whose essence is genocide. One of its chief features is to deny and denigrate the genocide.

I have a great deal of evidence which confirms what these documents say. If you have proof to the contrary, I am asking you to make it public.

You Want Some Truths to be Hidden

I don’t understand why you told me to keep quiet about the activities of BBC-Gahuzamiryango on the pretext that you have come to an agreement with the Rwandan government. What I say, I say it in my personal capacity and because I know it is the truth. Not only have I carried out investigations into the genocide, but I lived through the genocide and have been affected by its consequences. I’m not the spokesperson for the Rwandan government so you cannot accuse me of contradicting the opinion of those I represent. I am not privy to the correspondence between the BBC and the government. I am not involved in the agreements which have been concluded between the BBC and the government. And even if that were the case, I will never keep quiet as long as your radio serves as a vehicle for propagating the ideology of the genocide. I will continue to denounce this without let up, loud and clear, and in terms that are absolutely unambiguous.

I do not mince my words when I confront a situation where human dignity is put in doubt and is threatened, as it is by the propagators of the ideology of genocide to whom the BBC’s Gahuzamyiryango gives priority as guest speakers. I am writing in this public fashion because this kind of abuse does not concern me personally, but touches humanity as a whole. I will never hesitate, nor feel ashamed, in denouncing wrongs like genocide and the ideology of genocide.

The fact that you wanted me to keep quiet regarding your mistakes only served to increase my curiosity. There must be something even more serious behind that. To mention, criticize and denounce the journalists who have negative intentions, like Mugenzi and Nshimiyimana, should not be interpreted as “personal attacks” against them, as you want to believe.

A radio as respected as the BBC should be able to archive news and should be competent in preserving its institutional memory. Mr Cooke, you should have consulted your own archives to refresh your memory before writing to me. In the first place, you should have known that the journalists under your direct responsibility, amongst others Mugenzi and the person he replaced, have already damaged the BBC, many times, to the extent that the BBC had to apologise publicly. I must point out, however, that the problem for which the BBC apologised remains unresolved, and has in fact become both broader and more intense.

There are several written reactions by ORINFOR, which denounce the harm done by these journalists, to such an extent that it became necessary to modify (on 28 August 2003) the agreement between the Government of Rwanda and the BBC to specify that the BBC should take care not to broadcast “any material which is likely to incite hatred, violence or division”.

The first reaction sent to you came from ORINFOR on 17 June 1998. The controversy concerned Mugenzi following the interview he had just accorded to the spokesman of ALIR/PALIR. And now, it is more than 10 years since Mugenzi, and those who act similarly have been destroying the good reputation which your radio enjoyed before they became part of it. Instead of taking the necessary measures to resolve the problems which their programmes have caused, you are determined to defend them. That will not serve any purpose, and worse still, it is a dishonour to BBC radio, continuing to offer a platform to the genocidaires.

Mr Cooke, since you have agreed to take the responsibility for some of the dreadful mistakes committed by the BBC’s Gahuzamiryango, you have to be aware of the serious problems that have created. In your letter, you told me that there was no law which prohibited you from giving a voice to convicted criminals.  I accept that. But if that is the case, why then did you initiate an inquiry? What was the purpose of this inquiry? And what were its conclusions? According to your inquiry, with which mandate did the journalist, Nshimiyimana, interview these genocidaires?

According to the information in my possession, Nshimiyimana himself took the initiative for these interviews and, according to the same sources, he kept these interviews in a drawer for more than a year. The timing of their broadcast was not insignificant. Why did you await the 10th commemoration of the genocide to air these genocidal remarks? And if you want to know more, check the date when Nshimiyimana went to Mali, and what he went there to do.

Who, according to your inquiry, were the other people implicated in this affair? And what was the motive, or interest, given by those who admitted that they collaborated in the matter, for example by the person who recorded or the one who kept the broadcast to transmit it on 20 March 2004? What pushed the BBC to offer an apology? And what lessons did the BBC draw from this event which forced it to express an apology?

The BBC has to give the reasons why they had to apologise, especially to those who were offended by the remarks of these arrogant genocidaires. Those who were offended include the survivors of the genocide and other people who struggle to ensure that genocide never happens again anywhere in the world.

To offend the public on the radio and then to offer an apology from an armchair, which consists of a simple letter, is an unhealthy habit which encourages your journalists to commit the same errors without any worries.

You say that the BBC does not provide a forum for people with extremist ideas. By saying this, are you implying that the genocidaires do not have extremist ideas? Or else, you should admit that you are not, in fact, familiar with the ideas of the genocidaires and their way of disseminating their ideology, or you should simply admit that you support them. Which side are you on, Mr Cooke? And I would like you to understand that when I speak about genocidaires, I am not only speaking of those who are well-known, or those like Kambanda and his criminal colleagues who have been convicted. I include, in my list, also those who deny the genocide. I have sent many examples to the BBC through Mugenzi. If he has not given them to you, I will send them to you myself, along with supporting explanations.

Let Me Know If We Should Continue to Debate

On 18 April 2008, I wrote to the director of the Rwandese Office of Information (ORINFOR) and of Radio 10 Kigali about the BBC-Gahuzamiryango who spread the ideology of genocide. In writing to ORINFOR and Radio 10, my intention was simply for them to pass my message on to those in charge of the BBC since I knew that they enjoyed good relations with you. After that, I learned that you came to Kigali and that you talked together. I called my communication “Another Alarm Bell” because it was not the first time that I had written in order to draw attention to the broadcasts of the BBC Gahuzamiryango which had become a channel for the genocidaires and their ideology, especially through the programmes in Kirundi and Kinyarwanda.

I sent a copy, for information, to the Parliament, the Senate, the Minister of Information, to the National Media Council, and to the President of the association, Ibuka. There is a special reason why I sent a copy to each of these people or institutions. As far as the Senate is concerned, one of its responsibilities is to monitor the application of the principles of Article 9 of the Constitution of Rwanda, making special reference to Article 9 (1) and 9 (2) which condemn the ideology of genocide in all its manifestations and which promote the elimination of ethnic divisions.

As for the Minister of Information and the National Media Council, I sent it to them because they are charged with the responsibility of elaborating and applying the policy about news and information in the country. In addition, it is the Minister of Information who has the authority to give permission to foreign radios to work in the country.

I informed IBUKA as an association of genocide survivors which is always persecuted by the communiqués which are broadcast by the BBC-Gahuzamiryango.

Coming back to the Senate, in 2006 it made public a report entitled: “The Ideology of Genocide in Rwanda and the Strategy for its Eradication: An Inquiry by the Senate into the Opinion of the Rwandese People.” This report was made public two years after the Senate decided to carry out a serious inquiry into the ideology of the genocide as it existed in the country and to examine how best to eliminate it once and for all.

Mr Cooke, this report showed that 75% of Rwandans think that the press, the reports of experts and the reports of NGOs reflect the ideas of those who deny the genocide and those who support the ideology of genocide. This shows that the controversy which lies at the heart of our correspondence could have been debated by the serious mass media, such as the BBC radio.

In the press, special mention was made of foreign radios who think along these lines, in particular those who broadcast in Kinyarwanda and who are listened to by many Rwandans –the Voice of America and the BBC-Gahuzamiryango. The associations which were mentioned include FDLR and RDR. In this report, the investigators showed the different levels of language used by the deniers and the propagandists of genocide. The inquiry also showed that 58% of the participants affirm that these criminal acts help revive the ideology of genocide among ordinary Rwandese. (pp. 42-43).

From the time it was published, until today, the BBC-Gahuzamiryango has never commented on the facts it is accused of in this report. Or is it the case that you accepted these accusations as true and you decided to continue with your programmes as if there was nothing?

In this letter I am sending you, I am asking you to please reply to the following questions which Ally Yusuf Mugenzi should have responded to following the letter I sent him last March, and to which he has yet to reply. I put questions to him, and he should have responded to them, not only as a responsible journalist, but also as an official ready to take responsibility for his actions.

Mr Cooke, given the fact that I did not get a reply from him, and that, surprisingly it was you who wrote to me singing his praises, it is now for you to respond to the same questions that I had asked him, and which are the following:

•    Should an individual or an association which denies that there was the genocide of the Tutsis have the right to speak on the airwaves of the BBC-Gahuzamiryango which you are the head of?

•    Should someone or an association which states publicly that the authors of the genocide should not be publicly brought to justice be given a forum for discussion on the radio, for example the one you work for?

•    According to you, an individual or an association who argues that the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda was a necessary political undertaking in defending ideas which are politically acceptable. Tell me honestly, what kind of support are you giving them when you provide them with airtime, as you do so often on your radio?

•    Do you believe that ideas which are intended to divide people, which are racist and genocide denials deserve to be aired publicly and to be given free air-time on any radio, and especially yours, which is listened to by such a large number of people? When you give them a platform, don’t you think that such an act could have harmful consequences on a national scale in a country like Rwanda?

•    When you invite people or associations who dare to argue that the genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda had neither perpetrators nor victims, and that no one put a stop to it, what do you think you are going to learn from them?

•    Are you aware of the fact that the perpetrators of the genocide in Rwanda are always looking for ways of using the press, especially international radios, to propagate the genocide?  Did you know that your radio is among those they have identified to manipulate for this purpose?

•    Do you not think that the denial of genocide constitutes a reprehensible criminal act, and liable to be condemned by anyone of decency?

•    Are you knowledgeable about the different strategies (especially when it comes to language) used by those who spread the ideology of genocide and by those who deny the genocide?

•    Do you not believe that information, either written or broadcast, can put the security of a person, or a group of people at risk, and even endanger their lives?

•    In its history, did the BBC radio dare to give as much room for expression to known Nazis and to those who deny the Shoah? If not, then why do you think that the denial of the genocide of the Tutsis should be freely granted so much space on your airwaves? Is there, in your eyes, a genocide whose denial can be professed so publicly without a reaction?

I hope you will also explain why Mugenzi does not want to respond to the questions which concern him and why you preferred to write to me in his place. Was he acting under your instructions? And were the mistakes his own, or were they inspired by you? Or is it us who consider them mistakes when, in reality, it is the policy of the BBC?

Mr. Cooke, the response I get from you will give me the opportunity to know the points where it is necessary to give additional clarifications, and the manner in which we can continue with our debate, if you would like to, that is.

Yours Tom Ndahiro

December 9, 2008

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