I was encouraged by the Nation Dialogue on Media Development that took place last week from the 25th to 26th of November.
It aimed to bring several aspects of media for discussion by several types of media practitioners ranging from investors/owners, to board leaders and even journalists and other affiliated professions.
When you talk of media development in Rwanda, it is easy to repeat the litany of reasons which I would call excuses for Rwanda not having adequate media development. The reasons given are “lack of reading culture” or “lack of advertising” or “lack of investment” and the list goes on and on.
When you repeat something for long enough you actually start to believe it. Let us look at the first myth; lack of reading culture. The best evidence I can give to destroy this myth is that in 1994 we had a strong reading culture, sadly what was on offer was racist, genocidal propaganda but none the less people were reading.
I always look at this as an issue of content, if Rwandans were given the right content they would read. If you open a restaurant and people are not coming to eat then you either conclude that people don’t eat or your food is not what people want.
Our print houses suffer from lack of business acumen, they print edition to edition without a 3-5 year business plan, no breakeven point, no readership surveys to see what readers want, and just a wing and a prayer.
So they often opt for the sensationalist angle and focus mainly on personalities in politics and the military, every week they have to be more sensationalist than last week. This inevitably gets them in trouble with the Media High Council, a cat and mouse game ensues and eventually they are suspended to the usual uproar.
Even non-controversial papers or magazines are often dull and not what the reader wants to read. This is the information age where media consumers not only want to choose what information they consume or subscribe to but also want to actively engage and be part of the story.
News now is not what happens to other people, it is what happens to you, or it is how you perceive it. Print is no longer the only source of news, radio has been with us for over 100 years but it has managed to maintain its place by adapting interactivity through phone-ins and SMS.
I want us to stop repeating the usual excuses or impediments, we are not the only country to go through the growing pains of media development. Kenya in the 80’s and 90’s had more draconian press laws than we can imagine, so did Uganda, but eventually the parameters are set and respected.
Rwandans need to invest in media on a grassroots level, a local paper like “The Nyamata Express” is viable and essential for development of Nyamata and Rwanda in general, it would be a local record of births, deaths, marriages, public announcement, local by-laws, politician’s statements and the various eventualities in Nyamata.
Print is still viable in Africa even though it is dying elsewhere because over 80% of Africans do not have electricity so the internet is not an option. Last week I saw a schoolchild digging through my rubbish, I thought he was looking for food but he wanted the reams of paper I had thrown away so he could educate himself.
There is a growing reading culture in Rwanda, I believe we have to provide interesting content and interactive utility to readers, such as classifieds and user-generated content. Let's have a CAN DO attitude