New laws guarantee press freedom


The Rwanda Focus

posted by 

05.05.2013

” Poverty is our problem…”

Local Government Minister James Musoni and Emmanuel Mugisha, the executive secretary of the Media High Council. (graphic Mike Musaasizi)

While certain international organizations routine­ly criticize Rwanda for a ‘lack of press freedom,’ media practitioners actually doing the job on the ground disagree, saying that recent changes in legislation such as access to information and media self-regulation are a significant im­provement.

“There is no information that is hided in this country. These laws opened up the media space, you can no longer say that you don’t have freedom,” said Marcel Museminari, the managing director of a local newspaper, Business Daily.

That is also the view of the Min­ister of Local Government, James Musoni, who is also in charge of the media environment. “The re­cently promulgated media-related laws, particularly the Media law and Access to Information law, are a testimony of Rwanda’s resolve to promote independence of the me­dia and access to information as essential components of good gov­ernance and preconditions for du­rable economic, social and political development,” he said in a state­ment at the occasion of World Press Freedom Day celebrated on May 3.

According to the Minister, the government is committed to sup­port the development of a free, dy­namic and responsible press. “Our intention is to support the develop­ment of a media environment that is sensitive to our past, responsive to the present and that keeps us ac­countable as we work to deliver a better future for all Rwandans,” Musoni said.

Yet this evolution goes all but un­noticed by an organization such as Reporters without Borders, which in its 2013 World Press Freedom Index ranked Rwanda 161st out of 179. Rwandan officials are not im­pressed.

“We believe that we made prog­ress, so we ignore this report be­cause it doesn’t help Rwandans,” said Emmanuel Mugisha, the exec­utive secretary of the Media High Council. To him, a bigger challenge might be a culture of silence among Rwandans.

Rwandan journalists and editors, too, said they worry more about the real problems they face, such as lack of financial means and invest­ment in the sector as well as limit­ed intellectual capacity, rather than the perceived ones cited by Report­ers without Borders.

“There is a problem of intellec­tual capacity, but that is not worry­ing to me because once the media climate is good enough to attract capable people, then the medioc­rity vanishes and the problem is solved,” Museminari observed. “Yet the economic problem is really still hampering the industry.”

That results in poor financial re­wards for media practitioners. Dr Margaret Jjuuko, PhD in communi­cation and media studies, and lec­turer at the School of Journalism and Communication at NUR, ob­served that journalists in Rwanda, like in many parts of Africa, work in a poor environment, and that their salaries are very low.

As a result, market forces too are a problem for the industry. “Com­mercialization causes challenges because it prevents media from re­porting abuses by the people who are advertising with their media,” Jjuuko explained.

Concerning freedom of the press as assessed by Reporters without Borders, she noted that the ranking really depends on how societies perceive notions such as freedom of expression and freedom of the press.

“This notion as a fundamental human right, in my opinion, should be defined differently in different contexts,” Jjuuko said. “The con­text of Rwanda is not the same as for example that of Canada, the USA and the UK. Nationals of those countries know how to deal with media while here in Rwanda, we are still struggling with people to even give us information; they do not provide information as sources, they still shun the media.”

Therefore, she thinks journalists in Rwanda need to work on build­ing their confidence and profes­sionalism to seek information and the truth from reliable sources. “We need to be professional, but also there is a need of sensitization of politicians to know in which con­text media operate, to start trusting the media much more than they do now and give them access to infor­mation,” Jjuuko pointed out.

In that context of professional­ization, the professor criticizes the new media law since contrary to the previous one, there is no lon­ger a requirement for journalists to have specific academic qualifica­tions.

“Every profession has its guide­lines, ethics, and code of conduct that require a certain training,” Jj­uuko explained. “People who are not well trained in journalism will not know these ethical guidelines, and this undermines our profes­sion.”

NEW MEDIA LAW

The new media law establishes a system of media self-regulation; article 4 provides the creation of an independent body to regulate the conduct of journalists and establish professional standards. Article 15 empowers the same entity to deal with the violation of journalists’ rights.

The law also recognizes the legal right of journalists to collect informa­tion; to confidentiality of journalistic sources; and to call on any resource­ful person to provide information. It also lifts some restrictions such as prohibitions on the use of unlawful methods to obtain or disseminate infor­mation; neglecting essential information; and distorting ideas contained in information or a text.

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