Rwandan media can’t have it both ways

Editor, RE: “Rwanda’s media is steadily growing and not ‘committing own goal’” (The New Times, June 9). I agree with the author that Rwanda has set a very conducive base for the media to work in terms of policies and laws. However, the criminalisation of defamation is still a hindrance to media practice in the country. More so, this leads to self-censorship by journalists and editors.
Local media practitioners cover a past event. (Sam Ngendahimana)
Local media practitioners cover a past event. (Sam Ngendahimana)

Editor,

RE:Rwanda’s media is steadily growing and not ‘committing own goal’” (The New Times, June 9). I agree with the author that Rwanda has set a very conducive base for the media to work in terms of policies and laws. However, the criminalisation of defamation is still a hindrance to media practice in the country. More so, this leads to self-censorship by journalists and editors.

 

There are many issues to be investigated by the media. For instance, in 2012 legislators discovered that the VUP financial scheme had not achieved the target because of non-performing loans. It is still a problem even though VUP money was channeled to SACCOs.

 

Again, your argument about external theories is away from being academic. I would like to let you know that media theories were researched and tested. You need to do your own research to disprove those theories.

 

I agree, there is some improvement, but more needs to be done.

Songa

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So, in your book, the media should be free to defame – i.e. destroy innocent people’s reputation at will and without hindrance? In other words, for you, the rights of our incompetent and often careless media staff should override those of the ordinary citizen? Isn’t this putting the cart before the horse? Isn’t the media supposed to be at the service of the public rather than be immunised against defaming members of that public?

Of course a competent media — including its investigative section — should be able to sleuth out issues of interest both to the public and policy-makers and bring it to light. But it is not a binary choice of being allowed to defame with impunity (in order to be able to effectively fulfill its watchdog role) or being prevented from defaming with impunity and then crying that they have been hobbled from carrying out that role.  

A competent media, including its investigative branch, has the necessary skills to investigate wrongdoing and report on it while itself respecting the law and the rights of others not to be defamed (have their reputation wrongly damaged, perhaps irremediably).

As for the sorry state of our media, none of the media people at the show, which I watched, denied that reality. The only problem I had with them was that they continually sought solutions for their plight from everyone else but their fraternity.

In similar vein, a recent meeting between a parliamentary committee (on May 29) to brief the media on different policies, ended up as a long whine from the media practitioners.

In a report in this newspaper, we are told that “several media managers and journalists stressed that despite some commendable strides made by various sectors in the country, the media has lagged behind.”

They wanted greater government involvement with the media to help it develop in pace with other sectors. Which begs the question: If you beg for government support, how then do you fulfill your watchdog role over it? How does the piper believe, where it becomes necessary, it can criticise its benefactor without whom it would continue to wallow far behind the rest of Rwandan society and other sectors?

But I am glad we are having this debate.

Mwene Kalinda

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