At last, the media show signs of awakening
Today, the only global rankings where Rwanda is painted red are ratings associated with the growth of the media.
Although most of these rankings are done without due consideration of the prevailing structural issues on the ground, related to the media landscape, you will get a few that point out the true weaknesses largely linked to capacity leakages.
Indeed, while most sectors have steadily shown progress, year after year, our media sector has largely remained stagnant with few examples of baby-step growth.
Whereas the cardinal role of any vibrant media in a democratic society is to promote debate and help set the national agenda, ours has largely taken a back seat, enjoying a passenger role in this fundamental function.
Some have associated this inept performance to low capacity that exists in the sector but equally important is the absence of an entrepreneurial culture to drive the industry from a business point of view.
The good news is that the situation seems to be turning around and change is fast approaching.
First, unlike in the past where qualified journalists ended up in different well-to-do jobs, the industry is today attracting professionals with a passion of making change and redeeming the image of this sector that prides in calling itself the ‘fourth estate.
Because of this, in the last one year, we have seen new titles emerge on the market, with relatively improved content and better print quality. Indeed, even these new titles could have some editorial weaknesses but certainly there’s an effort to provide diversity in content and publish stories that simply make a good read.
Therefore, as new entrants grow stronger, the end result is a likely demise of existing titles, mainly the tabloids, or a complete transformation, including possible mergers to survive in the more competitive market.
Secondly, for the first, the industry is attracting serious individuals with money who are keen on running the sector along business lines. Media is a business and, just like any other business, chances of survival will be slim if the intent for profit making is lost. Without a business plan, the end result is usually mediocrity and absence of an innovative approach of capturing a wider market audience.
Therefore, the coming of the likes of Nation Media Group into our market will serve as a wake-up call for our sleeping players to either gear up for the new competition or simply fold up.
The coming of NMG and many more that are following soon, should also silence the frequent noise makers who claim Rwanda is a war zone for journalists. A credible media outlet like NMG cannot waste its resources investing in a country where its doors will be shut the next day.
Which brings me to the third and most important reason as to why our media is headed for better times: The existing strong will from the Government to see change and see it in the very near future.
No better way to explain this than through the on-going amendments to the existing media related laws where articles seen to impede journalists’ working environment are being scrapped off. A new bill on Access to Information is also before parliament and, if passed, will compel every official to provide information without any hesitations and delay. Rwanda will be one of the few countries on the continent to have such a law.
But having said this and though it’s not in the culture of this Government to peg progress of a particular sector to an individual behind it, simply because of its principle on collective responsibility, I beg to break the norm and single out the current Minister overseeing this sector as someone who has been instrumental in shaping the roadmap for this progressive change. His pragmatic and hands-on approach is certainly the reason for the changes we see today.
And like I mention above, the results are beginning to manifest. Take a simple example of the recent election for the Journalists’ Association where for the first time in the history of this body, the electoral process was conducted in a transparent manner, devoid of any chaos and the outcome largely accepted by the entire fraternity.
To say all is rosy today is to lie. There are still some bad apples and very low standards. Nonetheless, the tables are turning and even critics like Reporters Without Borders (RSF) are beginning to take note of this development, especially going by their recent rankings where Rwanda has moved up almost 15 places.
Therefore, much as the industry still has its own challenges, it has certainly began showing a bright future, one where this sector might sooner than later, take the driver’s seat in setting the national agenda. The journey is still long but it has certainly commenced.
On twitter @aasiimwe
Contact email: akaeus[at]yahoo.com