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]


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

g woo

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!


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.


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.

Ryan Cannon

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

Ryan Riley

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.

Steve G

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.


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.


I am convinced that MUCH of the discord, indeed, outright hatred, between liberals and conservatives is driven by extremist on BOTH sides. Because they have the loudest voice, draw the most controversy, and so forth, they are often good for ratings, hence they wind up on the radio or television, giving their strident voices an even larger audience.

The audience, often having no particularly passionate feelings either way, are "led astray" by these extreme voices. They want to tell you who you can and cannot vote for, want to paint the opposition in the darkest, most evil, colors as possible, want it all to be a black-and-white dichotomy....

I remember reading that prior to the Civil War, the abolitionist press was extraordinarily strident against "southern ways." This, of course, caused the south to go on the defense. There was no way now that they would wind down slavery. And the voices grew louder until people in the south actually PRAYED for war so that they could avenge themselves on the nastiness of northern papers. The result? A war that we still feel to this day, and that still affects our African American brothers and sisters negatively.

Friends, you can be RIGHT...and say it in such a way as to ensure that you preach only the choir, winning no converts, changing no hearts. And that is precisely the goal of the Limbaughs (and his liberal counterparts)--they want to keep the water bloody, to keep the feeding frenzy going, to keep the other side in a white fury. It's more money in their pockets, after all.

They may not be able to spark a second Civil War (though probably not from a lack of trying), but they will ensure that we stay divided. After all, the other side is EVIL.



Old post but cannot let this comment pass without a reply. You've got it completely backwards, AaronS. There was far less hate, especially hatred of people as opposed to hatred of acts of injustice, on the abolitionist side than the slave-owner side. Slave-owners constantly demonized blacks, whipping up fear and hatred for black people all over the country in their efforts to pressure both Federal and free state government to both censure abolitionist speech and cooperate more in returning escaped slaves, even when claimed "escaped slaves" were in fact legally free. Approximately three hundred whites were lynched in the antebellum South for the "crime" of criticizing slavery. Mails were searched,, books were burned, dissenters were terrorized into silence or flight. Gangs were sent into free states to burn out abolitionist newspapers and even kill their editors. In short, despite John Brown, the demonizing hatred and violence were overwhelmingly coming from the slave-owning side.


science minded

I cannot help but wonder at this point whether or not the radio might help in the case of Haiti as far as maintaining the calm necessary for the great humanitarian effort to succeed. People need to know not just that our thoughts our with them, but that we really understand the situation in the sense that no individual, culture or civilization is exempt from the problem of extinction. Perhaps then food and water could be dropped in an expedient way and organizing by the people (on the ground with the world's help) might help to avert a problem of order.


Very good article. Does RTLM still exist today? Has anybody been held accountable?

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What we should not forget is that the media in Romania is mostly owned by political groups who use the media to manipulate the public at large.

Good article.


This is precisely why radio should be made illegal. People are die as a result of radio.


There's still the bigger question which hasn't been sufficiently addressed by anyone - despite the fact that it was made famous 9 yrs ago in an popular article by Samantha Powers "Bystanders to Genocide" :

Why did the US refuse to use its technology to jam these radio broadcasts?


I wonder if these stats transfer to the Mufti of Jerusalem. His venom against the Jews earned him a post in Berlin to rage against the Jews during WW2

Ryan Kohls

Yanagizawa is responsible for some amazing social science, his Rwanda paper is no exception.
I recently interviewed him for my website, and got all the scoop on his work.
Check it out if you get a chance: www.whatiwannaknow.com