The Rwanda Focus
posted by Eric Didier Karinganire
” 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.