As Rwanda joins the rest of the world to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, stakeholders will be reflecting on the working environment of journalists in the country.
Gonzaga Muganwa, the executive director of the Rwandan Journalists Association, said that this year, the celebrations come at a time when progressive reforms are ongoing as far as the law related to the media is concerned, notably decriminalisation of defamation.
“The environment for press freedom is improving and it’s in line with the good working relationship between policymakers in the Government and the media,” Muganwa said.
“Last year, no journalist was charged because of their profession. It shows that professionalism has improved,” he added.
However, Muganwa pointed out that there are areas that still need improvement, including equipping journalists with more skills and boosting financial capacity of media houses. He also called on Rwandan journalists to take advantage of the conducive working environment to go about their work more diligently, especially investigative journalism.
Gerald Mbanda, who heads media affairs and communication department at Rwanda Governance Board, says that the Government initiated media reforms in 2013 to enable media practitioners do their work without hindrance.
“One of such reforms includes enactment of an access to information law, which has enabled journalists and the general public to get information. The self-regulatory mechanism is also a big achievement and has done a great job in handling media-related complaints and cases,” Mbanda told The New Times.
He said that the Government considers media as an essential tool in promoting accountability and democracy, adding that Government is satisifed that journalists in Rwanda conduct their work in a safe environment and that no journalist has lately been harassed, imprisoned or killed because of their work.
“Media practitioners should uphold ethical and professional standards, by desisting from circulating fake news. They also need to embrace new technologies,” Mbanda said.
Regarding challenges related to media profitability, Mbanda argued that this is a global issue and media houses should be innovative as it is no longer business as usual.
He says that media businesses can think about mergers as a way to improve business profitability and produce quality content.
The chairperson of Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), Cléophas Barore, lauded the improvement of media freedom in Rwanda, noting that newly released reports by media watchdogs show an improvement in the country’s ranking.
“Reports by RMC and the RGB show a very good improvement in media freedom. This is also shown by the media pluralism in Rwanda with different editorial lines and the fact that we have a self-regulatory body that allows journalists to distinguish between what is good and what is bad. That it is a good step forward,” he said.
Barore also commended the Government for taking steps toward decriminalising defamation.