Rwandan journalists and media stakeholders will, today, converge at the Institute of Higher Education (INES) in Musanze District to mark this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD).
Much of the talk during the event is expected to revolve around the historic reforms sweeping through the media landscape.
At the moment, there are at least six ongoing projects, including four draft laws.
Last month, the government approved a new broadcasting policy that paves the way for the migration from analogue to digital broadcasting, before the end of next year.
According to the Director General in the Ministry of Information, Ignatius Kabagambe, the next Cabinet meeting is expected to discuss five other key documents, including the draft media law, and the bill spelling out the new mandate of the now trimmed Media High Council (MHC), the draft law that will govern the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA) – which will result in the transformation of the current state-run Orinfor, under a new status as a public broadcaster.
Other dossiers likely to be considered by Cabinet are the proposed Access to Information Bill, as well as the new draft Media Policy, which also incorporates a media development strategy.
Most of these changes became imminent, several weeks ago, when the Cabinet stripped the MHC of its media regulating powers, announcing that this responsibility will now go to an independent body of professionals in the industry.
“Not a single function of regulation of any kind will remain with the MHC,” Kabagambe reiterated last evening.
Instead, he said, some regulatory functions that still need to be carried out by a statutory body will be transferred to Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA).
Kabagambe said the statutory regulation would primarily concern the broadcast media on issues such as licensing and the amount of local content.
Most of the journalists have since welcomed the idea of self-regulation.
“Obviously it is a big step in the right direction. I am happy with the various reforms going on,” Gonzaga Muganwa, a reporter with Rwanda Dispatch said.
For Flora Kayitesi, a journalist with Radio Rwanda, both the media self-regulation and the transformation of Orinfor into a public broadcaster, were long overdue.
“I think media regulation has been a very sticking issue for a long time. Who is better placed than us, the practitioners, to regulate the media?” she wondered.
On Orinfor becoming a public broadcaster, she said the agency would now be able to broadcast content that resonates with their listeners and viewers.
Similarly, Dr Christopher Kayumba, a media lecturer and researcher, praised both the media self-regulating move and Orinfor’s restructuring.
“These reforms are generally positive. There’s this widely-held view that Orinfor has, for long, operated as a government mouthpiece, he said.
“However, with its new status, it means that the public will inform its programming and content, while the financial and administrative autonomy will result in the hiring and retention of quality human resource. All this will enhance citizen participation”.
Kayumba also dismissed, as unfounded, suggestions that the Rwandan media was not ready for self-regulation.
“Such opinions are not grounded on any historical nor factual evidence. It is a doable thing as long as the media can have unity amongst themselves, and, above all, media self-regulation is an ideal pursued by all advanced societies.”
He, however, warned that any self-regulating organ “must be based on the principle of protecting media freedom and promoting journalistic ethics.”
Arthur Asiimwe, the chairman of the MHC Board, observed that the ongoing reforms mean that Rwandan journalists have a lot to celebrate today.
“Each of these changes demonstrate the ever-increasing commitment by the government to a more free, responsible and vibrant media, said Asiimwe.”
He particularly described the media-regulation decision as “a landmark achievement”. Asiimwe added that the access to information law, once in place, would “greatly ease the work of journalists.”
Bosco Rushingabigwi, the chairman of the Rwanda Editors Forum, and head of the media taskforce looking into the establishment of a body in charge of self-regulation, said his team had already developed a concept paper describing the basic tools required for the media to regulate themselves.
The proposal will be presented at the WPFD function in Musanze.
“We also made recommendations on how best the new organ can sustain itself financially, as well as issues regarding the development of a code of ethics, articles of association and internal rules and regulations for the new body,” Rushingabigwi said.
At the international level, the WPFD will be marked under the theme ‘21st Century Media: New Frontiers, New Barriers’.