Need to tame errant media

Journalists seldom engage in self criticism through mass communication channels preferring, like other self respecting professionals, to do so in the privacy of their associations and other professional fora, but some times it is unavoidable when issues are of public interest.

Journalists seldom engage in self criticism through mass communication channels preferring, like other self respecting professionals, to do so in the privacy of their associations and other professional fora, but some times it is unavoidable when issues are of public interest.

Since I joined the media in 1998, effortsby Rwanda journalists association, NGOs like Internews, government ministries have organized conferences, training sessions, and other interactive activities aimed at improving media performance, but a lot is left desired especially in terms of social responsibility and fair play.

In his recent monthly press conference, President Kagame, expressed concern over low levels of competence among journalists. Even a casual viewer watching could see that some journalists don’t do their homework before the conference. Can’t they learn from their foreign counterparts? Ask you question, don’t lecture!

In the media, errors of omission can be as damaging or as misleading as errors of commission, and disregard for  journalism principles does not only mar the image of the profession but also result into social tensions in society. 

Poor performance characterized by sensationalism, libel and inaccuracy in a section of the print media, is not entirely a result of ignorance or lack adequate facilities to gather and package information appropriately but can also be attributed to mindset.

Last week, Contact FM radio hosted veteran journalist, Theodole Ntalindwa, editor of Umwezi newspaper, Albert Rudatsimburwa  of Contact fm and Marcel Museminali of Business Daily to  review the media. Ntalindwa attributed the culture of sensationalism to early newspapers.

According to Ntalindwa, the earliest newspaper Kinyamateka , owned by the Catholic Church, played a major role in creating a culture of sensationalism.

“This paper reported sensationally and mainly preached divisionism among Rwandans putting undue stress on ethnic inequality, so that Rwandan readers from the start perceived newspapers as conveyors of such news” said

Ntalindwa in the interview. He continued “When private news papers started early 1990s, it was a period of crisis arising from multiparty politics, and partisan press adopted the perception of sensationalism (byacitse) which the readers were used to.

“Byacitse”, became a hallmark of the local press championed by a section of the press supported by audiences addicted to that brand of journalism. Later, when some journalists attempted a more rational approach, their newspapers did not sell as well as their sensational counterparts.

At some point when a newspaper issue did not carry a picture of a person  involved in a controversy, often fabricated by adversaries or journalists themselves, it was shunned by news vendors.  

How can “byacitse” be eradicated to have a vibrant, objective and developmental media. The government which is responsible for the general welfare of society should find an answer.

The impact of negative media is well known and Rwanda’s experience is a constant reference in discussions worldwide.

The Media Council has volumes of research on media performance, and as a result, has advised, cautioned errant journalists  but we continue to see impunity  in our media.

Some International human rights and journalists’ organizations have been misled by detractors to believe that there is no freedom of press and political space, and support errant media in their misguided missions.

Perhaps this is due to the fact that our media predominantly uses Kinyarwanda language and those associations access them through ‘trusted’ friends.

Otherwise if you listen to local radios, read the papers and listen to peer conversations reacting to the media, Rwanda would be ranked higher than it usually is in terms of press freedom and political press.

But such stereotypes take long to erase. From what I said above, it can be said that “byacitse” culture is an obstacle to full realization of the media potential towards social cohesion and national development. “Byacitse”  occupies space in  press and inevitably leads to public debate on non issues.

Perceptions of Rwandans to negative media should drive government policy and actions rather than uninformed attitudes from outsiders who promote untenable values and standards.

My friend Paul, who has lived in Los Angeles for over 20 years, on a visit in Kigali recently, was appalled by what he saw. He said in USA such journalists can’t survive because besides the law, media owners would not tolerate anything that goes against the general will of the people.

Paul had bought the paper after seeing a string of pictures of senior military officers, some of them his acquaintances. Expecting to read a substantial story, the story said those officers were sidelined.

The inaccuracy did not amuse Paul because some were his friends doing their jobs comfortably, some on foreign missions. Another said “these new RTLM”.

Museminali’s take on the issue of irresponsible media is that it is bad enough and Government is tolerant “Its better to have an intolerant press than an intolerant government”

That is an ambivalent stance Hon. Protais Musoni overseeing Information Ministry would  not take. What does it take to ban such papers?

Al  Balagh Al Gadid, a weekly in Egypt was banned last year for publishing a story about homosexuality. Examples abound

Ends

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