Rwanda, like many African countries, has suffered violence that mostly affected civilians, although in the case of Rwanda the violence has been unparalleled. The 100 days of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, in which about a million people died, left an indelible mark upon Africa and indeed the entire international community. It was a mass destruction in which propaganda and media played a significant role. Radio Mille Collines, which played a central role in organizing the killings, became a notorious global symbol of how media can be used to incite hate and violence.
The instability caused by conflicts undermines social progress and hinders economic development. Intolerance at all levels is a major obstacle to building a culture of peace, sustainable development and lifting millions of people out of poverty.
In Africa the crisis is deeply felt. Countries like Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, South Africa, and more recently Burundi, media is often seen as a contributing factor to the conflict and in the end, the ethical base of journalism is destroyed. Consequently, journalists need to guard against hate speech.
Emmanuel Mugisha, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Media Commission,believes that media could play a vital role in peace consolidation and sustainable development.
“Most of the conflicts that we have in Africa are either centered on political causes or economic causes but much more on social and cultural causes like ethnicity and intolerance to cultural diversity. If people are not open to diversity they end up creating divisions,” he says.
According to him, journalists should be guided by their principles and contribute to educating the masses to appreciate cultural diversity so that people are not victims of ignorance, ending up being divided on cultural basis.
“The media should be aware of this and take part in constructing social cohesion. This is in line with Article 1 of the RwandaJournalists and Media Practitioners’ Code of Ethics that calls for the media to be more active in promoting social cohesion. This is why this Article is number one because it calls upon the journalists to carry the burdenof promoting these universal values that in the end bring about peace among our people,” he reiterated.
Given the penetration of information technology and social media platforms, citizens can now produce content which previously was the preserve of journalists and mainstream media. Journalists,as opposed to citizens, however,are guided by the professional code of ethics which sets limits to what can be said or published. This is to avoid aggravation of discrimination and prejudice and, particularly, hate speech.
Mugisha says that to do this effectively, journalists must have ethically developed content and open ethics must be promoted. The public should be aware of what hate speech is and how to avoid it.
“There is a big challenge now that the citizens can produce their own content some of which end up communicating hate ideas and hate perceptions which is why we need to have open ethics. We used to have ethics restricted to only journalists but we need to rethink ethics in the open sense by sensitizing not only the journalists, but the public at large, to be more literate about the impact of media and information.
“How the public relates to the media and how they consume information should matter, as well as their content creation for expressing their ideas and exercising their freedom. The concept of open ethics should not only be restricted to journalists but should be open given the current challenges that we are facing,” he said.
The right to free expression is a universal right underpinned by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This means that everyone can speak freely and journalists have the right to report unpopular ideas and give their opinions that might not be acceptable to all.
However, they need to be careful how they express themselves as the ethical obligations of journalism require accuracy, impartiality, independence, and responsibility. These obligations make journalism a discrete and different form of free expression.
“We need to promote journalism that will help the public become media and information literate, and promote peace and social cohesion but much more, journalism which is much more aware of the potential conflicts that societies may generate and not to be part of conflicts but part of blockingconflicts.”
Journalists should be objective, because if they take sides they either become hate speech promoters or hate speech advocates. Such is what happened in Kenya during the elections in 2007, and in South Africa, acting as an agent in promoting xenophobia ideology.
According to Mugisha, turning the page of Hate Media in Africa requires looking at the sources that media might end up being part of. Media personalities should try to be objective and not subjective whenever it comes to conflicts.
Unfortunately, some journalists do not have this quality in themselves to be independent and yet responsible. They should carry a sense of independence in themselves and the freedom of expression and if they feel like they are being affected from being independent, they shouldjust drop the profession other than create chaos,” he concluded.
Marie-Immaculée Ingabire, the Chairperson of Transparency International Rwanda, believes that the media has the potential to inspire public confidence, which is why it was a powerful tool in inciting the 1994 Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi.
“Media has the power to provide information to a wider population at the same time. That was why the political authority with the genocide ideology had to use media because they knew its impact,” she says.
To limit the potential for hatred and violence, journalists have the responsibility to avoid hate speech and exercise care when reporting any kind of information targeting different groups.
“Journalists should consider professionalism and know the real meaning of freedom of speech. They should be mindful of the kind of message they give to the public and the impact it may have on the public. The roleof the media is to inform, educate and entertain. They have the responsibility to give correct information. Journalism should think professionalism,” she says.
The same challenges face journalists in many other parts of the world. All over the world where conflicts occur, it is often the vulnerable and marginalized groups that suffer most. Journalists have the responsibility of impartiality and providing non-discriminatory information.
This however poses the question: should journalists sacrifice their independence even when the public deems them worthy to express themselves freely?
Ingabire is convinced that the genocide was incited because of lack of independence of the journalists.
“The hate media that incited the 1994 genocide was as a result of lack of independence of the journalists. The media was influenced by the government and they lacked independence to report useful information. Independence of expression should, however, come with personal responsibility because if information is offensive, it can lead to violence,” she says.
Tom Ndahiro, a genocide scholar and researcher believes that the Rwandan genocide is the consequence of irresponsible journalism. He explains that freedom of expression and speech has a limit which is why media personalities should carry on their duties with a sense of responsibility.
“The genocide is the consequence of hate media because journalists made a choice to act irresponsibly. Freedom of speech has limits and I am convinced that there is no country with unlimited freedom of speech because it is dangerous,” he says.
In a 2001 Joint Statement, theUnited Nations(UN), the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and the Organization of American States (OAS) Special Mandates on the right to freedom of expression set out a number of conditions which hate speech laws should respect. One of the mandates stated that “No one should be penalized for statements which are true.”
Ndahiro believes that if anybody incites violence then they should be punished.
“There are laws that govern communication and it is also the responsibility of electronic publications to avoid posting hate speech. If journalists do not take responsibility for the information, then they should give it up. The principles of journalism should be taken seriously,” he says.
Hope Azeda, the founder and managing director of Mashirika Theatre Company, believes that subjective journalism is the main cause of hate media and freedom of speech cannot be blamed for hate media.
“Hate speech incites violence, which in most cases stabs humanity. Hate media incites violence and fuels crimes against humanity, it is also not ethical and goes against objective journalism. Hate speech should therefore be looked at as a weapon of human destruction and should be considered as a crime.”
“It all comes back to what kind of journalism an individual has signed up for. Some choices made can lead the individual to be a slave of mediocrity and at the end of the day, the end will justify the means,” she says.
With the fast expansion of internet access across Africa, there is need torealize that there is an urgent need to promote responsible use of information online and, where necessary block hate speech in social networks.
Sylvie Kwizera, a student at the University of Lay Adventists Kigali (UNILAK) suggests that the growing significance of online information in the media, requires that media does not sacrifice standards and ethical credibility.
“Journalism should be used as a tool to educate people. Much as they have freedom of expression, they should publish information that is beneficial to the community. People are entitled to their opinion but they should consider the broader wellbeing of society,” she says.
She notes that much as the public may have a tendency of stereotyped information where clichés can easily reinforce hate speech, every individual in society has the responsibility to analyze the necessary information.
“As Rwandans, we know how the genocide has affected us. We also know our dreams and aspirations. We should know violence distorts dreams. If anyone tries to promote hate speech in any way, they should be penalized to prevent violence,” she says.
STATEMENT ON THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY
On behalf of Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), which has the mandate of media coordination and on my own behalf, I take this opportunity to congratulate Media Practitioners on the World Press Freedom Day that falls on May 3rd. This year’s theme is “Access to Information and Fundamental Freedoms, this is your Right!”
In 2011, the Government of Rwanda initiated significant media reforms aimed at allowing the growth of free, professional, viable and responsible media. The 2013 promulgation of the revised law regulating media came with the enactment of the Access to Information Law. Rwanda became the 11th African country to put in place the Access to Information Law. This, coupled with the establishment of the Media Self-Regulatory Body and narrowing the responsibilities of the Media High Council to media capacity building, have laid a strong foundation for a self-regulating and a more free media environment.
There is a tremendous improvement on how officials respond to requests for information and the Office of the Ombudsman keenly implements the enforcement of the Access to Information Law. Advancement in ICT has also eased processes of gathering, treating and publishing news thus enabling citizens to get quick access to information and means to express them, as online platforms allow consumers to make feedback. The availability of affordable internet has enabled the creation of more than 80 online news sources, when a few years back there was none.
The media reforms are now bearing fruits because the media sector in Rwanda is growing both in quality and quantity. Radio stations have increased from 2 in 2004 to 32 in 2015. Local television stations have also increased from 2 in 2013 to 10 in 2015. Print media stands at about 50 though faced with challenges of irregularity. It is important to note that the media industry is still struggling with capacity in terms of finance and skilled personnel and this affects content. However, when we compare the past and present, we are filled with hope that the best is yet to come.
We will continue to build capacity and provide evidence based information on the status of media development through the Rwanda Media Barometer that was first published in 2013, and whose second edition of 2015 findings is coming out soon. I wish to thank all development partners who provide support to Rwanda’s media sector development, and particular thanks go to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the One UN Rwanda and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA).
Happy World Press Freedom Day to all!
Prof. SHYAKA Anastase
Chief Executive Officer/RGB