The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Leveson, the Media and the UN

opinion

"The media has wreaked havoc on the lives of innocent people". Those are some of the words used to describe the effect an unregulated British media has had on the public by Lord Leveson, the judge who led the inquiry into corruption and lack of accountability in the British media brought to light by the infamous phone hacking scandal.

In my commentary " Rwanda: Country on the move", published in The New Times October 15, 2012, I advocated for the regulation of a media whose cavalier and casual journalism had taken on a more sinister dimension in their reporting on people and countries beyond whose reach they consider themselves.

It is clear this time they bit off more than they could chew. Lord Leveson, in his report, has called for the creation of a media watchdog for the same purpose.

What does that teach us about the media both here at home and abroad?

Here at home it raises the question: Has not the kind of self policing practiced by the media under the auspices of the Media High Council been vindicated? Critics had called this muzzling of the press.

Also, what recourse do Rwanda and other so-called 'powerless' nations have to the misuse of the bully pulpit by the wayward western media when it comes to reporting on our part of the world. Take the example of the rogue BBC stringer Gabriel Gatehouse, a man, known mainly for his sensationalist Congo articles, who wrote another of his worryingly un-researched and certainly paid for pieces that have been published by the BBC. He picks out some obscure attention seeking, hitherto unheard of people and gives them a mouthpiece to spew garbage against a whole country. He is not alone in this.

In the negative media blitz on Rwanda, clearly, there are a number of media houses that are acting in unison to create the impression that what they say is the truth by republishing each other's stories. The UN is complicit in this plot by providing them with fodder for their lies through often leaked reports that it never does much to correct but rather allows third parties to act on.

In Rwanda, we have a saying to the effect that 'the truth cannot be burned by the hottest furnace'. As much as this same group is offering its services to the highest bidder, we should not let ourselves be dragged into that bottomless pit. This web of lies, bribes and lobbyists, fake experts and fake NGOs is so well developed to be beaten at its own game. Better to let them fall on their own swords. Let's stick to the truth and use ingenuity to call them out tirelessly on the facts.

What became of the rule of balance, listening to both sides of the story? Where is the care and diligence in reporting cases with a far reaching impact on the lives of many? Where is the review of the evidence or the cross-examination of the witnesses? This brings to mind the methodology of the so-called UN panel of experts. There are a number of issues that the Leveson inquiry has raised that must be dealt with:

Because there is a web of conspiracy being run from somewhere in the underbelly of some shadowy conglomeration of the western media that attempts to standardize and launder fake news, a combination of legal and denial of access approach must be used to counter their influence. Governments are more capable still of coming up with cleverer, more forceful measures to fight this lopsided relationship. A case in point is the death of a lady, Neda Agha-Soltan that was widely disseminated by this same cabal of news organisations and used to galvanise the opposition in Iran a few years back during mass demonstrations. This lady was later found to be alive and well living in England. But a cursory 'googling' of the reactions of her discovery, explosive as it was, in the west and not a grave in Tehran should help inform our approach to these manipulative guys.

This kind of behavior is outright wrong and illegal. Imagine this. It took more than a year for a court in Norway to convict confessed bomber Anders Behring Breivik but it takes a couple of weeks for a UN panel of experts to 'fix' a country like Rwanda. It has never been clear between DSK and Nafisatou Diallo who was the victim and who the aggressor was! Case closed. But it takes just a report from a journalist or 'expert' with one of these groups for others to pick up disseminate it and make it 'true'.

Cases involving nations require a higher standard of evidence than cases involving individuals. It's interesting how the wellbeing of entire nations is sometimes put in the hands of dubious individuals such as Steve Hege. Whatever happened to the international judicial system that is supposed to handle disputes between states? Why the lack of respect for the regional efforts under the ICGLR that have clearly borne fruit? How can countries be subjected to this kind of lynching that is unacceptable anywhere in the world today? Is it because they are perceived as insignificant and defenceless in the face of this combined media and diplomatic onslaught?

Care should be taken to protect the public, and not only the British public against fringe, attention seeking, manipulative, for sale journalists and corrupt NGO workers paid for by a multiplicity of intelligence agencies across the globe. It is one of the last open frontiers of recruitment for these agencies and been taken a bit too far.

How is it that an inept organisation that had to outsource this dirty work of fabricating information, as if it doesn't already have people being paid millions of dollars to collect and analyse information is capable of churning out reports at a rate faster than the public can absorb.

And how is it that even before they are official they are leaked and acted upon and believed as if they are from heaven? Not a single call for reviewing the evidence, no presumption of innocence, no right to be heard! All that's left is for this 'panel of experts' is to begin to foretell what Rwanda is going to do next and get action on that too.

The abuse of those perceived as weak must stop. The kind of situation where a single, corrupted individual - because of the unevenness of access, can pour hot water over the wounds of millions simply because he is British, French or German must be halted. This is a worse form of injustice than colonialism. Does being an American expert or journalist make one a judge, juror and executioner all rolled up in one? What standard is there for these experts and journalists to follow globally and where is the justice if their illegal, wrong and biased actions lead to grave consequences for whole communities of people?

Well, remember there are those who are willing to stand their ground in the face of injustice. You'll have to deal with them. The bravery of the parents of Madeleine McCann, the murdered girl whose phone was hacked makes clear that small people/nations can successfully stand up to bullying. This is a lesson we all learn early on in life.

Bernard Urayeneza is a local businessman and social commentator

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