BY THOMAS KAGERA
Rwanda is registering so much progress on several fronts; building structures, strengthening institutions, empowering individuals, putting in place infrastructures and striving towards self-reliance. National development through accentuating the values of good governance, accountability and people participation also occupy high-table positions in the overall transformational agenda.
The media has therefore been summoned into the equation to play a bigger role in fostering greater understanding of the development challenges the country United Nations RWANDA faces. The Government and partners have committed to developing the media, especially in the area of liberalization, which has seen the establishment of nearly 30 radio stations in under a decade, over 50 print media houses and 5 TV stations (with about 11 other applications being processed by RURA). The radios are predominantly private with some that are community-based. The one radio station that belonged to government (Radio Rwanda) was turned into a public entity under the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA).
The Rwanda Media Sector Reform, coordinated by Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), is aimed at accelerating the progress of the sector and expand its contribution to the promotion of national policies on accountability and transparency and spur social and economic development.
For media to play its role to full potential in public affairs, the players have been encouraged and empowered to question more objectively and engage more actively with citizens to increase public awareness, promote good governance practices and encourage engagement with politics and development initiatives.
RGB, through the Deepening Democracy and Accountable Governance (DDAG) Project under the auspices of UNDP, is working with several institutions (Parliament, National Consultative Forum of Political Organizations-NFPO, National Electoral Commission-NEC and the Media High Council) to ensure that media practices promote objective coverage, participation, shape national debate, inclusion in decision making, media freedom and accountability in governance.
Other partners in the implementation of the project are: The Rwanda Media Commission, Rwanda Journalists Association, National Women Council and Forum for Rwanda Women Parliamentarians-FFRP.
The DDAG project objectives are aligned with national development priorities spelt out in EDPRS II, 2013-2018, MDGs and Vision 2020.
June 2011 Media Policy
The Rwanda Media Policy is informed by her recent history. The policy hinges on the pillars of enhancing professionalism and plurality of a responsible and economically vibrant media sector. The overall objective is to contribute to the continuing economic and democratic development of the country, while enhancing engaged and constructive civil society within a framework of peace, stability and national security. The policy addresses such challenges as low levels of reading culture and media literacy, inadequate media responsibility and self-regulation, regulatory and legal frameworks, poor professional standards and low level of competitive outputs, limited access to information, the national mind set, international perception on Rwanda’s media, and lack of resources and inward investment in the sector.
Through the policy, the Government of Rwanda has committed to a rapid strategy of inaugurating a functioning free media platform to promote accountability and foster public participation and engagement.
The policy, too, is very emphatic on building media as a way of gaining public trust for a vibrant and independent media to enable the public to make informed choices, encourage active participation in decision-making processes and assess the performance of their leaders; as they are essential elements of a functioning democracy.
But, at the same time, the policy is mindful of overcoming the legacy of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi which requires particular sensitivity and a commitment from all sectors to contribute to constructive national dialogue and the rebuilding of public trust. So, respect for the country’s tragic past in the interest of forging a dynamic, just and peaceful future for all occupies a key position.
Reforms for Freedom
The decision to undertake media reforms was based on the need to stimulate sector development. “The government figured that professionalism among journalists was low, practitioners and media owners were not happy with the form of regulation that was in place, investments flowed into the sector quite slowly plus the need to give citizens a bigger voice as well as promote good governance,” explains Gerald Mbanda the RGB Head of Media and Communication Division.