Combating ‘Hate Radio’

As any means of communication, radio can be used for the good of a community, or to incite hate and conflict. The role of the radio station RTLM in spurring the Rwandan genocide is well documented and can not be underestimated. It is a disturbing piece of history and an example of hate radio where enemies are singled out and violence and murder is encouraged.

The case of RTLM in Rwanda is an extreme example of hate radio, but the tendency to use radio as a means to spur conflict is not unusual. During the post-election violence in Kenya, radio stations were found to have contributed to the violence that spurred ethnic hatred and conflict. In my attempts to make a conclusion that community radio with its participatory approach is not subject to hate radio, I find conflicting sources on its role. Evidence show that some community stations played an important role in curtailing the violence and promote peace during the post-election violence. Other sources imply that community radio stations seem to have utilised hate speech even though the private and commercial radio stations seem to have a greater tendency to do so. Yet, other sources say that these community stations are not true community radios but rather local ethnic-based radio stations. The argument is that the essence of community radio is to bring the community together and not to create conflict. I would assume that private and commercially driven station has less commitment to its community and more prone to political and economical pressure, making it easier for politicians to control/affect programming. This was the case of RTLM in Rwanda which was headed by politicians.

In this interview, Brenda Leonard from Bush Radio in Cape Town talks about the power of radio and the responsibility that broadcasters for what they broadcast and the consequences that it has. She says that stations select their targeted listeners (their community) and that it creates a bias that is important to attend to so that the bias does not change into arrogance and hate towards other communities. She argues for the need of regulation for what and how radio can be conducted and that mechanisms need to be in place that can be used when hate speech or other breaching of regulation takes place. She also argues for the role of community radio stations to take a stance and diffuse situations before they start.

Here is an interesting project that aims to highlight xenophobia and hate radio by recreating the broadcasts of RTLM in Rwanda in a funny and entertaining way using theatre.  Is it an effective way of spreading awareness and combating hate radio? Please share other examples if you have some!

After this post, I am left with a question. Are “true community radios” immune from the phenomena of hate radio? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Elisabeth Korswing

    Interesting piece! The problem with “haters”, or racist, is often that they think what they are doing is for the good of the community – the “pure” community according to their definition… So, they might define themselves as “community radio”? Any more thoughts about that?

    • I think you have a good point, bu that it is more complex than that. For one, community radios seem to often be owned by (directly or indirectly) poiticians, influencing the agenda of the community radio. It seems that these stations are participatory and inclusive to a large degree, but the station “owes” their owners for being able to conduct radio. I will explore this further in another post.

      Secondly, I think it is easier than one might think to end up projecting problems on one issue or group of people. My own thought here (not backed by any empirical evidence that I have found…yet) is that smaller communities tend to be more ethnically homogenous and that problems are as well, making it easier to find support in the community for identity politics that might turn into ‘hate radio’.

  2. Hi,
    With a lot of the elements of new media and ICT I can’t help but find myself thinking about hip-hop, especially the work of Public Enemy a hip hop band with a focus on social change. Your call for examples of radio combatting hate made me think of their song “Incident at 66.6 FM” heard here on youtube:
    By remediating opinions from a radio show, Public Enemy, is able to give their targets a voice, create a short piece with overlays of other sound bytes and a beat, gain more credibility as an alternative perspective and show their sense of humor (66.6 FM) before going back to more traditional hip-hop.

    • Thanks for sharing that Eric! I used to listen to Public Enemy a lot when I was younger. I think this track is important in terms of countering the “attacks” made on them in that radio show. It does show a sense of humor, but it offers an important critique on what is allowed on the airwaves. I think that radio host handled it terribly. Even though he didn’t agree with anyone, he was laughing and taking their comments very lightly.

      • there is the need for international regulation as Brenda mentions. One is to say discretely here and there that you don’t like someone or something (freedom of speech), another thing is to encourage extermination. And meanwhile, the creation of positive community radios, inclusive and meant to bring forth the notion of togetherness should mushroom. The Rwandan genocide was a very sad story, I almost can’t believe that could still happen! We are supposed to learn from history :/