Washington Launch of "Media and Mass Atrocity"

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The National Press Club

529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor

Washington, DC 20045

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Washington Launch of "Media and Mass Atrocity"

It has been 25 years since Rwanda slid into the abyss. The killings happened in broad daylight, yet many of us failed to grasp the unfolding events. When human beings are at their worst — as they most certainly were in Rwanda during the 1994 genocide — the world needs the institutions of journalism and the media to be at their best. Sadly, in Rwanda, the media fell short.

Confronted by Rwanda’s horrors, international news media at times turned away, or muddled the story when they did pay attention by casting it in a formulaic way as anarchic tribal warfare rather than an organized genocide. Hate media outlets in Rwanda played a role in laying the groundwork for genocide, and then encouraged the extermination campaign.

The lessons of Rwanda, in some respects a textbook case, should have been clear. But a quarter century later, these are lessons that we still struggle to absorb.

The global media landscape has been transformed since the 1994 Rwanda genocide. We are now saturated with social media, frequently generated by non-journalists. Mobile phones are everywhere. And in many quarters, the traditional news media business model continues to founder. Against that backdrop, it is more important than ever to examine the nexus between the media and the forces that give rise to mass atrocity.

At times, it seems that those who abuse the power of media and communications to demonize and divide get the upper hand, echoing on new social media platforms the same hate and prejudice as that broadcast all those years ago in Rwanda.

Social media tools can be used to inform and engage, but also in an echo of hate radio in Rwanda can be used to demonize opponents and mobilize extremism. We are left with many troubling questions, still unresolved despite the passage of time since Rwanda.

A new publication from the Centre for International Governance Innovation, Media and Mass Atrocity: the Rwanda Genocide and Beyond documents an effort to revisit the Rwanda case study while also casting forward to other scenes of mass atrocity where media have played a role, or could serve a preventive function.

Allan Thompson, editor of Media and Mass Atrocity, will join some of the other contributors to the edited volume at a National Press Club panel discussion on Thursday, May 16, 2019. Thompson will chronicle the back story of one of the most important pieces of news media footage gathered during the genocide, a few minutes of video captured by cameraman Nick Hughes, who trained his camera lens on the death throes of a man and woman who were killed on April 11, 1994 in the Kigali neighbourhood of Gikondo.

Doors open at 5:15 p.m.

Presentation at 5:30 p.m.

Reception at 6:30 p.m.


Speakers:

Catherine Bond, an English editor at the World Bank in Washington, DC, where she edits content for the Africa and Middle East pages of the World Bank website, as well as research papers, reports and other publications, spent most of her professional life in Africa working as a journalist, reporting for British newspapers and the BBC World and African Services before joining CNN International as its Nairobi Bureau Chief (1998–2003). She reported extensively on the ground in Rwanda in the spring of 1994 for The Times (of London) and other outlets. She will review some of the key moments of international media coverage of the events and takes issue with the careless, almost casual way the genocide is sometimes described as a spree of madness, as anarchy, a description that fails to convey the “relentlessly methodical and unpitying manner,” in which the killings were carried out.

Mark Fohardt and Paula Orlando, of the media development organization Internews, explore how interventions involving media can discourage further violence and contribute to building a culture that promotes some sense of justice and sustainable peace in countries where mass violence and atrocities have occurred. Looking at case studies in Rwanda, Colombia and South Sudan, Frohardt and Orlando conclude that the most effective way of working toward reconciliation and non-violence is by fostering a culture of critical engagement among the population.

Theo Dolan and Will Ferroggiaro document PeaceTech Lab’s work to create a lexicon of hate speech being used online in South Sudan. The goal is to identify and contextualize the particular kind of language that’s likely to cause violence. The resulting lexicon of hate speech terms has been incorporated into PeaceTech’s ongoing monitoring for hate speech. PeaceTech has developed predictive analytics capabilities in hopes of developing early warning data to assist peace-building and humanitarian response groups by issuing warnings about likely outbreaks of violence based on the online use of hate speech. Dolan is a technical adviser for the Civil Society and Peacebuilding department at FHI 360. Previously, he was the director of PeaceTech Lab Africa in Nairobi, Kenya for the PeaceTech Lab. Ferroggiaro is a director at Strategy for Humanity LLC, where he assists clients in the areas of conflict, governance and media. For PeaceTech Lab, he was the lead author of hate speech lexicons for South Sudan and Nigeria.

Yannick Veilleux-Lepage is a Senior Researcher in the Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative at Georgia State University, where he works on Department of Defense funded projects analyzing online extremist discourse and the media products produced by extremist groups.

Steven Livingston, a professor of Media and Public Affairs at George Washington University, Washington, DC, examines whether advances in media technology and our ability to document war crimes and human rights abuses have any preventive value. We now see, often in close to real-time, atrocities that would have been lost to the world only a handful of years ago. But Livingston asks whether knowing necessarily translates into doing. Whether such access to information can be directly linked to changes in international policy-making processes remains undecided. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that changes in the technical capacity to gather evidence has had negligible effect on the willingness of states to intervene in mass atrocity events. It is no longer feasible for leaders to claim ignorance of atrocities.

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The National Press Club

529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor

Washington, DC 20045

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