Rwanda has instituted a commission to investigate accusations against the British Broadcasting Corporation for genocide denial for airing the documentary Rwanda — The Untold Story on October 1.
The Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura) suspended Kinyarwanda programming on the BBC on October 24, claiming that Rwandans had overwhelmingly called for the stoppage.
However, the decision by Rura was contested by the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), the regulatory body, which said it contravened the country’s laws.
Now Rura has established a commission to investigate the accusations against the BBC, which is chaired by former prosecutor-general Martin Ngoga.
Other members are Christopher Kayumba, a senior lecturer at the School of Journalism and Communication, University of Rwanda, Christophe Mfizi, the dean of the School of Journalism at the Catholic Institute of Kabgayi, Rosine Urujeni, Rwanda country director of Indego Africa, and Evode Uwizeyimana, vice chairman of the Rwanda Law Reform Commission.
The commission will investigate if the documentary violated international standards of freedom of the media. In addition, it will assess if the BBC followed its broadcasting guidelines and evaluate if there was a motive to deny or revise the genocide against the Tutsi in conceiving the documentary.
Rwandan survivors’ groups wrote to the BBC’s director general, Tony Hall, to complain that the documentary had politicised the 1994 massacres and made “a mockery of the BBC’s reputation for integrity and fairness.”
Survivors of the 1994 genocide living in Europe also held a demonstration outside the BBC headquarters in London to protest the airing of a documentary.
Mr Ngoga is confident that the commission he heads will deliver a balanced report.
“Members of my team are people of integrity who are able to stand for their independence; their record is known,” he said.
However, questions are being raised about the independence of the commission as its members are largely perceived as pro-government.
“Members of this commission were appointed by a government institution, and we know the position of the government in this case. I doubt the independence of this commission,” said a local journalist who didn’t want to be named.
The inquiry budget will be provided by the government; another point that raised concerns over the objectivity of the commission.
Analysts have questioned the move by Rura to ban BBC broadcasts and establish a committee to investigate afterwards, saying it should have been the other way around.
They also question why RMC is not represented in the commission, despite the fact that it is the one tasked with monitoring media content.
After the RMC publicly condemned the ban of the BBC Great Lakes service, the commission and its head, Fred Muvunyi, were accused of genocide denial.
A subsequent visit to RMC by US ambassador Donald Koran did not help matters, as Mr Muvunyi was subjected to scathing attacks on his person and work, and the mandate of the commission was questioned.
Media watchdog Reporters without Borders (RSF) warned that the attacks threatened the existence of the commission established by journalists, and asked the government to protect the institution.
The Paris-based organisation said Mr Muvunyi merely argued from a legal point of view, based on the media law and an existing memorandum of understanding between Rura and RMC.
RSF further says excluding RMC from the committee is a sign that the commission is technically being sidelined and its duties taken over.
“The RMC is the victim of an attempt to undermine its credibility and deny it legitimacy,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of Reporters Without Borders’ Africa desk.
“If the RMC disappears or is stripped of its powers, the government will have even more liberty to censor any content it doesn’t like. We call for the RMC’s mandate to be respected and for an immediate end to the threats against its president,” Kahn-Sriber said.
In his visit to RMC last week, the US ambassador to Rwanda Donald Koran said his country was concerned about “any media suspension in the country.”