There are certain groups that campaign on single issues like Reporters Without Borders whose purported mission is press freedom around the world. The tactic of these organisations is often to present a worst case scenario and to present matters as if they are on the verge of crisis.
This sense of crisis is essential for their basic business model and it is how they generate both publicity and funds. Rwanda’s media situation is not perfect but neither is it as dire as RSF would have you believe. Considering our recent history and current context we still have a long way to go.
The report was shocking in many regards, none more so than the ranking of USA at number 20. How can a country where the first amendment protects all freedom of speech and media be ranked 20th?
The countries that rank highly are, as usual, Nordic countries; Sweden, Norway and Finland. If you look at those countries they have a particular history and culture. In order for Rwanda or any nation to rank as high as Sweden then we would have to have a history like Sweden, but we are Rwanda and will always be.
91 journalists have been killed worldwide, so far in 2010, of all those journalists one was a Rwandan and died in tragic circumstances that have been linked to a grudge dating back to accusations in his past. This has given a false impression that all journalists are in danger. Rwanda was ranked lower than Somalia where the Al-Shabab beheads and kills journalists regardless of their perspective. Mexico has had dozens of journalists killed by drug gangs in recent years but still ranks above Rwanda. So you end up questioning the agenda of the report’s authors.
The problem I have with this report above others is its approach of “naming and shaming” that generates headlines with little practical benefit ensuing from it. In life when one takes a confrontational stance it often leads the people you are accusing to close up and dismiss you as a hater.
There are no practical remedies proposed in the report, just accusations and a very simplistic notion of how the media should work. It is time for critics and allies to help us overcome the deep-lying problems that dog our media, like lack of professional training, lack of advertising, a low reading culture; only then can we address other issues.
The report comes out at a time when the media is in a state of flux; we are in a transition from traditional to digital media. Even the likes of New York Times are struggling; so what chances do other less illustrious papers have?
And yet some dreamers want Rwanda to miraculously develop a responsible vibrant media industry overnight in a world where the rules are changing constantly by the day.
Rwanda will soon have a vibrant media industry but it will only be done through cooperation and wise council and not through finger-pointing.
Donors help us in many ways. It is time they played a constructive role in developing the media as a tool for development.
The author writes on social issues for The New Times