Rwanda media free and growing contrary to biased foreign reports

Rwanda's journey of renaissance, in all sectors is now truly visible, including the media sector, considered as a key element in the democratization process. A lot has changed over the years within the media sector, with a purpose to have a free, professional, profitable and vibrant media.

Rwanda’s journey of renaissance, in all sectors is now truly visible, including the media sector, considered as a key element in the democratization process. A lot has changed over the years within the media sector, with a purpose to have a free, professional, profitable and vibrant media.

In 2009, the government of Rwanda initiated annual media dialogues on media development, bringing together media experts and other stakeholders, with the objective of sharing knowledge and experiences on how the media sector in Rwanda can be developed.

On 5th December, the 6th annual dialogue was held which specifically focused on assessing the impact of media reforms in the last two years. These reforms were a result of the recommendations of the mentioned previous dialogues. In such dialogues, all practicing journalists with or without accreditation, are invited to participate.

Some of the notable media reforms that were put in place include the enactment of the Access to Information law (Rwanda became the 11th country in Africa to pass the law) and the establishment of a self -regulation body independently managed by journalists and civil society who are elected by a journalist’s general assembly without any government control.

In the recent 6th national Dialogue, the Chairman of the self -regulation body and a number of practicing journalists commedend the good working relationship they have with the police and other security organs when journalists contact them to access information.

The government ceased ownership of broadcasting servicesby turning government owned office for information (ORINFOR) services into Rwanda Broadcasting Agency- a public broadcaster.

The printing press and IMVAHO NSHYA newspaper that belonged to the government were sold to    foreign private investors through a company called Rwanda Printing and Publishing Company. The initiative moved the government from media control and competition with the private sector.

The purpose of the reforms was to create an enabling environment where media enjoys greater freedoms, develop media capacity, and create media that is citizen oriented which contributes to social economic transformation of Rwanda, at the same time, promoting private investment in the media sector.

In 30 years after independence (1962-1992), Rwanda had only one Radio station-Radio Rwanda,and from July 1993- July 1994, a second radio- the infamous hate Radio RTLM, was on air as a propaganda machine for the sinful purpose of inciting people to commit genocide against the Tutsi.

In 20years (1994-2014),there are 33 radio stations, 5 television stations and 3 TV pay channels, while web news sites are more than 80. The conducive environment for the media to operate freely has resulted into this significant growth.

Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), which is responsible for coordination of media reforms and implementation of the media Policy, initiated evidence based scientific tool of monitoring media development in the country through the Rwanda Media Barometer (RMB) 2012, which uses internationally accepted indicators.

The findings of the RMB 2012 show that there are still some challenges but not alarming as foreign reports want people to believe. The overall score of the RMB 2012,  stands at 60.7%, which is above average, but calls for more improvement, especially in areas like Civil society organizations’   advocacy for communities to access information which  is critically low at  39.4%.

Other challenges we have within the media sector, is not the military or security organs as claimed by some foreign reports. There is need to examine how   the print media can overcome bottlenecks that have contributed to its stunted growth.

In the morning if I am not able to see newspaper vendors on streets of Kigali rushing and flashing newspapers tomotorists as it happens in Kampala or Nairobi, then I know that our print media has a problem.

The challenge is not lack of information by journalists but to build their capacity to use the information they have abiding by the code of conduct and professional ethics, to serve the citizens.

The challenge is not to criminalize or decriminalize defamation, but to ensure that journalists exercise self respect and that of others, whether in positions of leadership or not, while at the same time observing that the media freedoms provided are exercised within the respect of the laws of the land.

Rwanda Media reforms are now bearing good results, contrary to external reports which simply mention the reforms in passing and do not give credit where deserved. Rwanda Governance Board(RGB) in partnership with other institutions concerned with media, like Media High Council(MHC), self-regulatory  body(RMC), Office of the Ombudsman, etc, made country tours in Provinces to access the impact of media reforms.

We held discussions with local leaders from governors, mayors and executive secretaries, journalists and security organs and we found that due to awareness campaigns on the Access to information law, the working relationship between journalists, local leaders and security organs had greatly improved unlike before the reforms.

When organizations claiming to be advocating for media freedom, protection of journalists or human rights defenders are used for political interests, then we expect to see the dangers of getting reports that do not reflect the true picture of the state of affairs but only serve to settle political scores for the benefit of the people they work for.

The writer is the Head of Media and Communication at Rwanda Governance Board.

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