HUYE - Journalism is an ultimate tool that strengthens democracy and helps establish a society that respects the rights of all, Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General of Canada, has said.
In her keynote address at the National University of Rwanda on the role of media in a democracy, the Governor General said that journalism is an ideal when it is practiced with concern for the truth and common good.
“Journalism is about awareness, providing food for thought, asking questions about what has been passed over in silence, encouraging the expression and confrontation of ideas, opening hearts to realities that call for action,” she said.
“It is an ideal of democracy which we need to strive towards with all our strength and try to maintain it at its highest level.
She reiterated the need for responsible journalism in emerging democracies like Rwanda which is working on fostering unity and reconciliation after Genocide while at the same time recognising the responsibility of journalists in Rwanda which is trying to rebuild, to restore the ties of trust so brutally and bloodily broken.
The Haitian born Governor General, who also worked for the Canada Public television for 18 years, advised media professionals in Rwanda to exercise their independence in a way that does not obstruct efforts towards unity and reconciliation.
“Only on that condition can words testify to the truth, awaken consciences, foster openness and allow for dialogue that leads to healing and genuine reconciliation,” she said
Jean called for vigilance as she paid tribute to the over 500 students and staff who perished at the University during the Genocide.
“It is very hard for me to imagine that even the students were involved in the killing of their own classmates,” she said.
The Governor General’s visit at the University was also characterised by a panel discussion on: “the role of media in a democracy.” Media trainers, practitioners, regulators and students engaged in open discussions on the media in Rwanda, its challenges and future prospects.
The recent suspension of two vernacular tabloids; Umuseso and Umuvugizi attracted hot debate on the independence of the media. Arthur Asimwe, the board chairman of the Media High Council said that media freedom comes with responsibility. He said that after getting numerous complaints from readers, the council tried to engage the heads of the two papers in a dialogue but were ignored.
“We are there [media high council] to ensure that the law is respected, but we are also there to ensure that freedom of the press is maintained, so you do not talk of the freedom of the press if people adamantly refuse to adhere to what the law says,” Asimwe said.
Rwanda’s Minister of foreign affairs, Louise Mushikiwabo, commended the work of some media houses which she said have worked to mobilize local communities for development.
Commenting on the issue of the suspended Umuseso and Umuvugizi tabloids, Mushikiwabo expressed displeasure with the kind of stories that two papers publishing.
“I have read some of these papers and I am outraged, as somebody who want to see this country move forward with very good, very healthy and very critical journalism, that a newspaper would be calling for a mutiny in the army, calling for Rwandans not to pay their taxes and predicting war in a few months, ” Mushikiwabo said.
The Governor General later in the day, in Nyamagabe district, was briefed on the activities of the Programme d’Appui à la Gouvernance locale du Rwanda (PAGOR), a project funded by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
It supports the Rwandan decentralization policy by strengthening local governance in two districts of the Southern Province; Nyamagabe and Nyaruguru. She later held a closed door discussion with women in Gender committees in Kibilizi Sector.
The Governor General was accompanied by; Foreign Affairs Minister, Louise Mushikiwabo, the Minister in the President’s office, Solina Nyirahabimana, Rwanda’s High Commissioner to Canada, Edda Mukabagwiza, Gender and Family promotion Minister, Jeanne d’Arc Mujawamariya, and the Governor of the Southern Province among others.