Presidential elections will be free, peaceful and fair if the media and Police join forces and ensure high level of professionalism in their respective capacities, Justice minister Johnston Busingye has said.
Busingye, who was addressing a Police-Media interaction session at Police Headquarters in Kacyiru, yesterday, said Rwandans have a life to lead beyond elections, hence it was imperative that the media shun any form of sensationalism that might incite violence and confusion during election coverage.
The gathering, which brought media practitioners, managers and senior police officers, was intended to give a breath of fresh air to the collaboration between the two sectors, which will be working closely throughout the election season.
The call comes two days to the beginning of presidential election campaigns.
Busingye, under whose docket the Police falls, said Police and media interaction at such a time was “vital” in facilitating a seamless pre- and post-presidential election society.
He specifically noted that the media will play a big role in ensuring a safe and fair electoral process if it sticks to ethics of impartiality, professionalism yet remain dynamic.
“We are entering a very critical season as a nation. Such elections don’t happen very often; therefore, it is important that all of us are ready in our respective capacities to facilitate a seamless electoral process,” Busingye said.
“Elections will not be the end of Rwanda, which explains why the media, Police and the National Electoral Commission have a major role to play in making it safe, free and fair for the country to move on peacefully thereafter. That said, we expect a more dynamic, constructive and professional media coverage during this time.”
Busingye said Police and media should work together to display high level of professionalism.
“The media should avoid publicising divisive information,” he added.
The Inspector General of Police, Emmanuel Gasana, said information sharing, especially on matters related to safety and security, will be vital in enabling the Police to execute their duties.
He said Police will be in charge of transporting election materials across the country as well as escorting presidential candidates during campaigns and elections.
“Police will be at every polling centre and polling station as well as keep security at every campaign rally. This is why it is very important that we work together with the media and members of the public, especially in information sharing. Information is power,” Gasana said.
He added that Police will facilitate vulnerable voters such as pregnant women and elderly people to easily access voting booths (as well as ensuring their safety during campaigns).
‘Leave announcing outcomes to NEC’
Charles Munyaneza, the executive secretary of National Electoral Commission (NEC), reminded the media that they are not allowed to announce any election figures before the commission to “save the public from confusion and anxiety” that might cause unrest.
Munyaneza said NEC will set up a media centre at the commission headquarters, from where they will keep updating journalists on any incoming results rather than media houses trying to compile one on their own.
“From experiences in other countries, we have seen that when the media take up the role of tallying and announcing results, it creates a lot of confusion and tends to result in public unrest,” he said.
He also echoed the importance of equal media coverage for all the presidential candidates for fair representation.
On Amnesty report on fear
Meanwhile, Busingye, who doubles as the Attorney General, dismissed recent Amnesty International reports that a “climate of fear and repression” was looming over Rwanda ahead of August 4 poll.
Busingye said the report was baseless and aimed at attracting attention of financiers to the authors of the report.
“The negative information that is being peddled out there about Rwanda is never going to affect our progress,” he said.
“During elections, some organisations exploit the moment to fabricate information in pursuit of funding. There is no climate of fear whatsoever and that is one of the many baseless reports we should expect in this season—this is not the first and last certainly.”
Incumbent President Paul Kagame, of RPF-Inkotanyi, will be competing with Frank Habineza, of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, and Philippe Mpayimana, an independent candidate.
The country goes to the polls on August 4, a day after Rwandans living in the Diaspora will have cast their votes.
Emmanuel Mugisha, the executive secretary of Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), welcomed the collaboration between the media and Police, saying it would help ensure professionalism from both players.
He urged media practitioners to avoid speculation and publishing unverified information, even on their social media platforms, saying journalists tend to command a significant number of followers who might identify their comments with their profession.
“RMC will monitor journalists and this will be entirely aimed at ensuring professionalism,” Mugisha said.