When Radio Kills

During the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Radio Télévision Libre des Mille Collines (RTLM) broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda and called for violence against Tutsis, which many experts believe significantly contributed to the violence. An interesting new job-market paper by David Yanagizawa seeks to determine the precise role that RTLM played in the genocide. Yanagizawa relies on “arguably exogenous variation in radio coverage generated by hills in the line-of-sight between radio transmitters and village” to determine the causal effects of RTLM. He finds that RTLM played a significant role in the genocide: full village radio coverage increased violence by 65 percent to 77 percent. The effects are larger in villages with a large Hutu majority and in villages without access to other information sources i.e. villages with lower literacy rates. In total, Yanagizawa calculates that the radio station’s broadcasts explain 45,000 deaths (or 9 percent of the total death toll). (HT: Chris Blattman) [%comments]


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  1. Terry says:

    RTLM “contributed to it?” How about “announced when the killing should begin?”

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  2. g woo says:

    Good article. What it’s saying is that the media has a powerful influence on listeners/viewers/readers — and it does.

    This influence could be used more positively. What would happen in the US if, instead of constantly focusing on partisan politics, media reporters focused MORE on the problems at hand and what “we,” as a nation might do about it.

    As the media defers to talking heads, we citizens sit in front of our TVs and computers wondering what I, the powerless individual, can do. We don’t want to be witnesses to the blame-game (OK, sometimes we do). We need leadership!

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  3. Viorica says:

    Oh, yes, media can be very influiential. We see this every day in Romania, when there are true histery about a lot of things, this week about AN1H1 vaccin.

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  4. Roche says:

    It would be neat to see similar research in the US, w/r/t Tea Party and/or Liberal causes’ support in comparison to radio & TV broadcasting. Media Matters and similar organizations tally the percentage of sided topics on a variety of broadcasters, so a simple red/blue map by Congressional district, overlaid by a %age of right/left-leaning programming, would be an interesting piece of info.

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  5. Ryan Cannon says:

    Strangely, I feel the need to make a Fox News reference at this point.

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  6. Ryan Riley says:

    Its nice to see other people take notice of this, I recently wrote a paper and presented it at a conference (I’m a graduate student in California) about the Rwandan Genocide. The RTLM not only announced when the killing should begin and broadcast anti-Tutsi propaganda. It also attacked the Arusha Accords and moderate Hutus quite severely. It also pointed out the hiding places of Tutsis and the locations towards where they were fleeing.

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  7. Steve G says:

    Any radio professional knows you help the targeted demographic to create their own ‘Hills and valleys’, plus building a community and affinity and emotional tie.

    Then you sell’em!

    Right wing talk radio is its own self-contained ecosystem. For validation, pictures and guys with church haircuts, you then go to Fox.

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  8. kj says:

    Remember when Limbaugh kept saying that there would be riots at the Democratic Convention in Denver? Right wing radio has been stoking hate for years, and poisoning the public well under the noses of reporters.

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