By Frank Chalk

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Intervening to Prevent Genocidal Violence: The Role of the Media

by Frank Chalk

Professor Chalk is a member of the Department of History, Concordia University, Montréal, Canada and the co-director of the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies.

The media of mass communications today include traditional printed newspapers, magazines and journals, as well as the 20th century’s core electronic resources: radio, television, and the Internet. In wealthy nations, the print media, television and the Internet predominate, while in poorer states, often marked by low rates of literacy, the medium of choice for shaping and reinforcing public opinion is radio.

In utilitarian genocides, largely motivated by the desire to create, expand and preserve formal states and empires, the perpetrator calls directly on the professional armed forces of the state to facilitate the acquisition of wealth, eliminate a perceived threat or spread terror. But in genocides motivated by the search for a perfect future inspired by a utopian ideology, the state demonizes the victim group and its members, excluding them from the universe of mutual human obligations. This process usually requires intensive, sustained propaganda to mobilize violence on a grand scale. Crimes against humanity, and especially genocide, require the spread of hate propaganda and disinformation throughout the general population to reinforce key motivating beliefs. Other motives—acquisition of wealth, elimination of a perceived threat, and spread of terror—often play a role in ideologically-motivated genocides, but largely among the ordinary killers who operate at a social and political level below that of the key architects of the genocide.

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