Hate Trial is a reminder of our accountability

The imprisonment of three journalists would usually be cause for howls of outrage from the international media community.

Not so for the hearing known as the “Media Trial” which ended last week in The Hague.

It might just as well have been called the “Hate Journalism” trial.

Its three defendants all went to prison, two for life, for their part in stirring up race hatred that led to the appalling genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

Ferdinand Nahimana and Jean-Bosco Barayagwiza of RTLM radio and Hassan Ngeze, editor of Kangura, had broadcast and published names and addresses of people they said should be killed.

RTLM urged its listeners to “hunt down the foreigners” and “leave no survivors who could later accuse them”.

Ngeze wrote of the Tutsi tribes people as “cockroaches” and urged his readers to “start by purging the internal enemy… they will disappear”.

Not since the Nuremberg Trials and the execution of Julius Streicher, editor of the virulently anti-Semitic newspaper Der Sturmer, has such a verdict been reached.

It turns on its head that old adage of the journalist’s prerogative being power without responsibility.

If we should ever forget that what we write or broadcast has the capacity for having far-reaching repercussions, the conclusion of the presiding judge at the UN tribunal acts as a reminder.

“Without a firearm, machete or any physical weapon you caused the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians,” she told the defendants.

But if Rwanda – and such stark accountability – seems a long way from here, consider this.

According to the annual British Social Attitudes survey published this week, overt racism among the British public is on the increase for the first time in 16 years, having fallen steadily since the late Eighties.

This year, 31 per cent of adults described themselves as prejudiced against people of other races. That’s quite a leap from the 25 per cent figure registered two years ago.

The report’s authors attribute the increase to the media’s coverage of race issues, particularly the rise of Islamaphobia since September 11. They found a long-term relationship between prejudice and hostile newspaper coverage.

Anybody writing on asylum or immigration might just give that some thought.

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