Media practitioners and other stakeholders in the industry have called for better and constant training of journalists on how to detect and suppress hate speech while media houses were urged to put in place and enforce an in-house policy for social media use to keep dangerous speech at bay.
The call was made yesterday during a one-day conference organised in Kigali by different partners, including journalists’ associations in the country, the government, and UN agencies.
“Proper training and in-house short courses of journalists should be emphasised as an important means to ensure responsible reporting and arresting professional misconduct,” reads one of the recommendations from the conference.
Others include the need to constantly monitor the media to detect hate speech and advise practitioners to stop it while online media owners were advised to monitor, moderate and block hate speech in social media platforms before allowing the messages to go public.
For participants at the meeting, it was once again a moment to reflect on the emerging dangers of hate speech at a time when social media technology has made communication easier.
“Journalists and editors were able to better understand possible sources of hate speech and how to avoid it,” said Gonzaga Muganwa, executive secretary of the Association of Rwandan Journalists (ARJ).
The conference was organised under the theme “Turning the page of hate media in Africa”, which is a follow-up on the Africa-wide campaign for African media organisations to fight hate speech, launched in Kigali on April 18, 2014.
Rwanda, which suffered at the hands of hate media during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, remains an unforgettable lesson that words can kill.
“It’s like a wake-up call if they can take lessons from here,” Muganwa said about the need for regional countries to learn from Rwanda about the ills of hate speech.
During the Genocide, in which more than a million people were killed, propaganda and media played a significant role, experts say.
Radio Mille Collines, which played a central role in organising the killings, became a notorious global symbol of how media can be used to incite hate and violence.
“It’s one of the challenges that we have to confront with members of the media fraternity,” UN Resident Coordinator in Rwanda Lamin Manneh told journalists and other media professionals.
Manneh further commended Rwanda for enacting the Access to Information legislation saying the UN was proud to be a partner in the ongoing media reforms which, he said, are steadily showing positive results.
Since the end of the Genocide, Rwandan journalists have been picking up the pieces and trying to build a resilient and constructive media which has helped the society to reconcile and rebuild the country.
The Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) estimates that Rwanda has seen significant media growth, both in quality and quantity since the end of the Genocide, with the number of radio stations increasing from 2 in 2004 to 32 in 2015.
Local television stations have also grown from two in 2013 to 10 in 2015, print media stands at about 50 though faced with challenges of irregularity, while online publications are more than 80.
“Because of you the sector has become more professional, economically viable, and more pro-people,” Prof. Anastase Shyaka, chief executive officer of RGB, told journalists yesterday.
However, the remarkable development of the media in the country doesn’t mean that there are no challenges since media practitioners and organisations remain financially challenged, with experts blaming the weak financial muscle on a weak private sector.
“The market is not big enough for the media to generate revenues from independent sources,” said Gupta Sulakshana, Head of Mission for La Benevolencija in Rwanda, an NGO that empowers groups and individuals so they can fight hate speech and related violence.
But financial dependence will not be an excuse for promoting hate speech and those who will be tempted will face the long arm of the law, experts warned yesterday.
“Punishment is right for criminals,” said Rwandan prosecutor Charity Wibabara at the conference yesterday.
Tom Ndahiro, a genocide scholar and researcher, agreed with her, saying that “when you are engaged in hate speech you are no longer supposed to enjoy the right to freedom of speech”.
The International Press Freedom Day is celebrated each year worldwide on May 3.