History in the Making

Document Type



On December 9, 1948, the United Nations established its Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. Genocides, however, have continued to occur, affecting millions of people around the globe. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda resulted in an estimated 800,000 deaths. Global leaders were well aware of the atrocities, but failed to intervene. At the same time, the Western media's reports on Rwanda tended to understate the magnitude of the crisis. This paper explores the Western media's failure to accurately interpret and describe the Rwandan Genocide. Recognizing the outside media’s role in mischaracterizations of the Rwanda situation is particularly useful when attempting to understand why western governments were ineffective in their response to the atrocity. The media is self-evidently a central tool in informing the public about issues, shaping public opinion, and promoting change within societies. Despite the objectivity that the media is expected to maintain, there is no denying that the media, whether intentionally or not, has occasionally reported on events and issues in ways that have misled or been misinterpreted by the public. The western media's treatment of the Rwandan Genocide is a clear example of inaccurate and incomplete news coverage.