The recent National Dialogue on Media Development was a good opportunity for Rwandan journalists and government officials to reflect on the media performance and a chance to share views with colleagues from the East African region and beyond.
The Banyarwanda say that “ amagambo aryoha anyuranye” (or words are sweater when they are varied). Although very few ideas were new to the media discourse in Rwanda, our guests added fresh and insight especially on the way forward for our media industry.
During the dialogue the speaker to Senate Hon. Dr. Vicent Biruta and Minister Protais Musoni expressed government commitment to transforming the media through enacting enabling laws and provision of requisite facilities for potential investors. For the print media a modern printing press has been acquired to meet all press printing needs and the move from analogue to digital broadcasting system should attract those interested in that sector of the Media
A Ugandan journalist who works for a government corporation, The New Vision, Mr. Kabushenga underscored the centrality of the role of Rwandans in the development of the media. Through the experience of his enterprise dialogue participants were shown how government corporations can serve the interests of the public and at the same time contribute to national coffers. The New Vision is a big taxpayer.
His compatriot from Makerere University Mr. Isaa Agaba Mugabo who presented the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation experience of transformation from a state media to public service broadcaster offered useful hints on the merits and conditions of sustainable public media service. Does Rwanda need public service media or should government divest totally from the media and leave the field to private sector.
Yes, Rwanda needs a strong sustainable public media service shaped by the demands of national media policy rather than commercial considerations to be able to inform, educate and entertain the nation without the strain of pursuit for profit for share holders.
Whereas private broadcasters are reputed for their outspokenness and controversial journalism and depicted as media for democratization they often serve narrow interests and are essentially elitist. I don’t see private TVs covering Cyangugu, Karongi and other far flung districts.
They may be able to send signals to these areas but the programmes will essentially feature what happens in the capital but with interesting, though exotic shows like gambling, cricket, soap operas etc. These need to be balanced by people centered programmes which ORINFOR does through its established networks.
Judging from local FM radio stations, their coverage is limited to what goes on around their location. Albert Rudatsimburwa may be right in saying his Contact FM has done well commercially but a simple survey of their programmes shows their coverage is far below Radio Rwanda.
That might explain my friend Lenny’s contention that Rwandans are more sensitized about HIV/Aids than their counterparts in South Africa. Lenny who has worked in South Africa for the last five years attributes this phenomenon to Radio Rwanda’s development programmes and its reach.
Evidently every country has its uniqueness and although certain principles are universal, practice varies from country to country as there is always need to address historical, economic and social issues and other national imperatives. That is why BBC, UBC, KBC and TBC, all public service broadcasters, vary in many aspects particularly sources of funding and government control.
It is worth noting that even the so called independent media is not so independent. Where you have powerful private media enterprises personal agendas of owners and advertisers’ influence prevail over the editors’ professional commitment. The public media service if empowered serves to counter such interests, which are often partisan and or profit driven.
Models of the public media service from the region could serve as a guide to the in the process of transformation of our state media. With the infrastructure and personnel available to ORINFOR a restructured public media would compete favourably with private media in the service of the nation. Through synergy of its various organs the public media service would be able to provide a wider coverage at a reasonable cost.
With investments like the printing press recently acquired, revenue generated would go along way to meet the financial needs of the service. Here I am envisaging a printing business run by a team of committed Rwandans run commercially.
The proposal to transfer our gift from the President to a foreign company would be ridiculous considering that the bulk of its business is local, but of course with market potential in Burundi and Eastern Congo. Surely locals could do the job well if given a free hand and a committed board of directors.
An efficient public media would set standards for the private media and provide the competition necessary for a lively media, and the benefits discussed above should be of interest to policy makers.
Finally I would like to comment briefly on Mr. Telvil Okoko’s (of Press Freedom Monitor EAJA) suggestion that the Rwanda Media High Council be replaced by media auto-regulation. Isn’t it perhaps time the government reviewed the appropriateness of the council as it is today compared to an auto regulation body overseen by the ministry? Opinion among local media fraternity favour the latter.