A few days back, I had a lengthy argument with some of the top media professionals in Rwanda on who is to blame for the failure of the media to professionalize. Comparing the current Rwandan media with that of yesteryear, one can say that there has been tremendous progress in terms of media ethics.
However, there is a lot still lacking; the current performance in terms of news gathering and dissemination has not yet made the grade.
The explanation is simple. There are cases of public servants who still spoon-feed journalists with information that they want to pass on to the public. Sometimes, they even go the extra mile of manipulating them.
Being a practicing journalist, I can give a clear example of an incident that happened to me. A few months back, I was told to prepare for an interview with a top government official.
In preparation, I came up with a few questions and having gathered my recorder. Upon arrival at his office, I was handed with a 10 page document and instructed to read it.
The document written in Kinyarwanda had a title, ‘Interview held between…………and The New Times.’ The document had questions posed to the official by the ghost journalist and the answers from the official.
This shocked me to my core. I personally never expected such manipulation. Surprisingly, this was the fellow who was always openly blaming the media for being unprofessional.
Nevertheless, I read through this document after which he called me to his office wondering if I understood the document.
I nodded in response but still demanded the chance to pose my own questions, get my own responses and generally be the reporter I am.
Unfortunately, he was not ready to give me this chance so I went back to work, handed the document to my boss and I told him, ‘we don’t have a story here.’
Despite the fact that President Paul Kagame has invested a lot of effort in improving the media, there are still such setbacks which may intimidate most practitioners.
Recently, I was reading an article on the performance of the media in Rwanda and realized that the outside world thinks that this profession is supposed to generate ‘a lot of money to journalist.’
I beg to differ. There is still much to be done although journalists themselves have abused the fact that the profession is one of passion and not necessarily an income generating one.
I would as well say that such characters are the ones that are tempted into corrupt tendencies, an exercise we journalists call ‘Giti’ (money given to journalists by sources for various reasons).
Those that give out this form of bribe have watched the presidential press conference where Mr. Kagame has condemned the act but the go ahead and do it.
It is so disappointing that some professionals in the country have chosen to get ‘big jobs’ and swank instead of fighting the good fight.
Journalism is not about money; at the end of the day you can end up dead or in prison and having all the money in the world will be of little use to you.
The author is a Senior Reporter with The New Times