The spot light turns on to The Media High Council with the highly anticipated media dialogue starting tomorrow. various stakeholders see the dialogue as a beacon of hope to journalism in Rwanda. Patrice Mulama the Executive Secretary of The Media High Council spoke to Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah of The New Times about the prospects that the first ever high level media conference and the local media industry.
How different is this conference from the previous ones?
This is not going to be the usual conferences you have been seeing about media or anything else. I say this based on the nature of the organization, objectives, the profiles of the invitees as well as the discussions that have been planned. Given such items it thus means that this is going to be a different conference.
We have very experienced operatives within the area of investments within the media, experienced trainers who are going to attend from institutions such as Makerere University and beyond. What is more is that we will have media watchdogs-those people who have been critical of Rwanda in terms of what they call media freedom.
When they come we will use the opportunity to explain to such critics why and how we do what we do within media apart from having a chance to listen to them.
Most important is that we hope to come up with a road map on where we want to take the media industry. That means that we will come up with clear-cut mechanisms of taking the fraternity to the next level.
Attracting investors aside, what has The Media High Council(MHC) done to boost the activities of the current crop of media owners. For instance Government has invested in a modern printer but issues still keep surfacing.
I must point out that this conference has been organized by the MHC acting in concert with other institutions. It is due to the fact that MHC came to note the fact that time had come for stakeholders to put more emphasis on deepening media through more investment inflows.
Attracting investors both local and foreign would go a long way in boosting the capacities of the local media houses. We believe that better outcomes borne out of such a prospect will take local media to the next level. Resources from the private sector is key to boosting the workings of the local media. This is something that has happened successfully elsewhere.
What has the MHC done in the past in that regard?
Quite a number of initiatives have been spearheaded by us. For instance we forged a partnership with the Great Lakes Media Centre to develop a media training manual for short term programmes. Further still we are empowering this very centre to conduct trainings targeting our journalists. The manual serves as a curriculum tool that should positively impact on training. We want to depart from the past and systematically develop solutions with positive impact for the future competitiveness of the media fraternity. In terms of media development we are also looking at building the capacities of various media outlets from a pure business perspective.
You mean to say that MHC wants the current media owners to change the system of their operations to more business orientation?
Absolutely. That said, we now have turned the Rwanda Press Centre into a centre for capacity building within the local media courtesy of the MHC. The press centre’s new focus is to address real challenges facing the industry.
Does that mean that soon we will witness a situation whereby this centre will churn out bankable proposals for the media owners?
That is what it means. We even have somebody recruited permanently for that by MHC.
That is very good news. However I must point out that investments have been made in the past but issues still come up a case in point being the web printing machines that Orinfor manages
One thing that I can say about the printing issue is that Government did a very commendable job. No doubt about that. However that machine is not going to be of use to us until we devise a very clear and articulate plan of managing the printery such that it can generate income and support the industry
The main question is whether there is such a plan you are talking about. Do we have such a plan?
I am yet to see such a plan. Having said that , I have a lot of hope in the capability by Orinfor to come up with such a plan. They need to sub-contract that asset to a third party capable of managing it. That is the best approach as I do not see Orinfor effectively managing that asset by making it useful for the entire industry. Sub-contracting to a third party will also serve to eliminate the suspicion that some private media outlets have on orinfor which is actually a public media organization. If done that way, this will assist with strengthening the workings of the print media sub sector nationally.
My next question concerns the perception especially from local journalists that your council is an extension of Government meaning that MHC is largely perceived as taking the Government’s side while you should, in the ideal situation, be seen to be neutral
We are in the situation that everybody needs to understand. We operate within the public, media and Government. We are not supposed to take sides. The constitution gives us such powers as an independent institution serving all those sides as I mentioned.
That is only in the constitution. In reality, however, some local journalists say that you cannot be seen to be impartial.
An institution such as ours will never cease to have people disagree with the decisions we have taken especially when we are talking about issues that have to do with media operations. That said, it is only too natural to have some people taking opposing views with decisions reached by us. You can never appease everybody.
We do what ever we do in line with the law. We also believe that the law is there to serve the interest of the public, media and even Government. We do what we do within that context. While it is within our interest to have everybody understand what we do in the right way it is not the nature of human beings to understand everything in the same manner.
It thus means that journalists do not seem to understand the mandate of your council
What we do is transparent. However, I must also mention that we have had challenges in the past. For instance personnel issues have now been sorted out in areas that have to do with access to information advocacy.
We will have personnel to assist with bridging such gaps for the purposes of leading the processes needed to over came challenges we have been facing. Once tackled we hope that the perception will change.
Still on that perception by journalists, kindly inform us whether your council has a case study whereby it has gone out of its way to protect journalists?
The most important thing that we have done which is the basis of protection you are talking about is something that is going to be seen to be the centre piece of the media operations in this country. It is initiating an idea and executing the establishment of the access to information law in this country. It is something that has been driven by us though with the support of other institutions.
We spearheaded the process of consultations throughout the country bringing together all the major stakeholders until we got a document that was validated in 2009. Right now the draft has just received ,comments from the Minister of Justice that should serve to take this particular bill to the next level before end of the year.
Meaning that we should have a break-through of sorts in this regard before end of the year that should change the landscape for the better.
So such a move to you serves as the biggest source of protection your council wants to accord journalists?
I don’t want to say that it is the biggest form of protection as we are yet to do more. As I had told you that this is not a very old institution. Originally I must say that our job was only advisory. Now the scope of our mandate has increased since last year.
Meaning that the Media High Council that people knew before is not the one of this year. With the changes being effected internally we are poised to serve our stake holders in a better manner.
What you are saying are things soon coming up. Kindly let us know in the past what your council did to protect journalists
In 2007 we condemned and objected to the Government’s decision of suspension of a newsprint known as The Weekly Post. We did condemn that. However we must be clear on exactly how much powers the MHC have in terms of protection of journalists. Our powers stop somewhere. We have boundaries that govern how we operate.
One thing that should be made clear is the implication of the new laws coming up,in terms of promoting media freedom, good governance and accountability. That said, one should never say that our council has not done enough to protect the journalists.
What else have you done?
The amendments to the current media laws was driven by us. The amendments have turned this piece into a very progressive law. The laws now provide guidelines and standards. For instance editors or directors must have certain minimum qualifications. These are new safeguards.
That brings me to the plight of journalists in terms of pay and other forms of remuneration.
In the previous cases we had owners who were not particularly doubling up as businessmen. That situation is bound to change as we now have minimum capital requirements before someone can embark on operations. That means that the new standards will definitely improve the industry.