Rwanda and the Commonwealth: The Evolution of the BBC's Institutional Narrative on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide

Holmes, Georgina (2011). Rwanda and the Commonwealth: The Evolution of the BBC's Institutional Narrative on the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The Round Table, 100(416) pp. 519–530.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/00358533.2011.609693

Abstract

As with most British media coverage in 1994, the BBC did not report genocide in Rwanda, preferring instead to depict political violence as tribal civil war and ‘primitive’ ethnic conflict. Yet when the international community declared that genocide had taken place, the BBC was quick to change its tack, moving away from reporting ethnic conflict towards memorialising genocide. Referring to the BBC's website, political discussion programmes and documentary films, the article considers how over time an institutional narrative on the 1994 genocide has developed. The author argues that the BBC has been required to reconcile the problem of depicting genocide—conventionally seen as modern, ‘Western’ political violence—in Africa. The ways in which the BBC has remembered Rwanda's genocide also conceal from view British foreign policy decision-making between April and July 1994. The author then considers how, since Rwanda joined the Commonwealth in November 2009, the BBC's reporting has shifted again—this time towards framing news in the context of democracy and freedom of speech.

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