Media contribution to development faces many challenges

No one can entirely ignore the fact that various challenges continue to dog the media fraternity in our backyard. And, indeed, we apparently still have a long way to go.

No one can entirely ignore the fact that various challenges continue to dog the media fraternity in our backyard. And, indeed, we apparently still have a long way to go.

The freedom to gather and disseminate information is not entirely a smooth path yet there are lots of benefits to gain if the challenges disappeared all together.

No hope is lost though! I remain an ardent optimist given all the positive signs around – the fog is steadily clearing.
On 16 April, Eric Chinje, the new World Bank External Affairs Manager, pioneered the World Bank’s efforts in the search for concrete ways of enhancing the media’s participation in Africa’s development.

The event – a video conference– underscored the media’s importance in development. Indeed, the media can be very resourceful if properly engaged in critical discussions on development issues.

This partly involves working closely and informing media houses about projects and other pertinent issues, ‘right from the word go’ as it was unanimously agreed.

One of the best practices suggested was that the media should always be brought in at the entry point not at the exit. This is all about access to information – and TIMELY access to information at that.

This has a direct effect in the fight against corruption, which also directly and significantly impacts on a country’s economic development.

During a series of conversations with journalists, I have raised the issue of the state of the media and discovered that many acknowledge its role in Rwanda’s development, BUT also want to talk about the challenges.

Surprisingly, most colleagues agree that one major stumbling block to press freedom is our awkward lackof one of the most fundamental infrastructures on which press freedom can prevail – capacity or proper training.

Personally, self denial is a sin I cannot afford to live with in this regard. And many others agree.  “Despite the other issues involved, we journalists lack the capacity,” a journalist friend once admitted. This is a fact, and yes, let’s own up. But, is this ‘capacity issue’ all that goes with the package?

This goes hand in hand with the need for media professionals to adhere to high ethical and professional standards.  But most important, the rule of law to protect press freedom and political will to support it must also be strengthened more.

And we have seen some very positive signs. In the recent past, for example, a photojournalist was roughed up by an irate cop, but the culprit did not go scot-free – he was punished according to the law.

Rigid government officials who simply don’t understand the importance of our work [or do it by design!], especially when it comes to accessing information in the public domain, are another worry. Should they too go for ‘Ingando’?

Despite the fact that legal and regulatory structures are being put in place – one aspect being the press draft law currently in parliament – as part of the fundamental infrastructure  on which a free press can prevail, Rwandan’s poor reading culture also doesn’t help matters.

The lack of necessary media literacy skills by many Rwandans makes it an uphill task for them to read, critically analyse and understand information. Many can’t appreciate it or use it, or even hold the media accountable for its actions whenever necessary.

Our country’s history and present post-conflict scenario also presents serious challenges. Some acknowledge that “we step on our own toes.” This of course is not farfetched; there are very many wounds still healing, very many hearts still hurting, and it remains every Rwandan’s prerogative to help where and whenever necessary. 

Contact: karuhanga_james@yahoo.com

 

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