The other day was the World Press Day. Without doubt, it is a good and fitting gesture towards appreciating the ladies and gentlemen of the fourth estate. The first thing that came to mind is the fact that when reports (especially in the international press) about our part of the world are always, to put it mildly; bad, quite bad.
Elections for example will get way more coverage if there is violence and will have ‘concerns’ if smooth-sailing. The latter typically attracts little coverage. Should only bad news be news?
What should the role of the press be? Apart from the righteous noises about media freedom and stuff, what is the responsibility of the press in our development as a community/country/region? Are pressmen and women reporting responsibly? Is the development agenda part of their raison d’être?
That the media is a powerful segment of the society goes without saying. Whether it is always a power for good is the question. The media, that is newspapers, radio, television and the Internet, play a very important role in national development. Its real influence is the media itself, the societies in which they operate, and the audience they reach and of course technology. It influences attitudes, perceptions and decision-making; and generally behaviour.
The relationship between media and national development has been studied and analysed in various societies and found to be positive. The media represents a tool for shaping public opinion; promoting democracy and good governance, influencing behavior; facilitating nation-building; and promoting policies that guarantee high quality life. The media, thus, as frontline for political, economic and social development, has functional and specific roles in society.
Put simply, the media must positively use its power to bring out both the good and bad in the society to foster progress. This power must be exercised responsibly while appreciating the press as part and parcel of the society. Closer home, we need to hear much more about the various East African agendas, be it customs union, monetary union, or the upcoming integration. Truth is that most East Africans are ignorant of developments both in their own societies and more so in the neighboring countries.
The focus on politics is frankly top-heavy with the developments in social and economic aspects taking a back seat. This must improve and be more balanced.
There are a lot of good things, extraordinary really, happening in Rwanda and her environs, done by ordinary people that are an inspiration and should inspire progress that need to be reported. We are not as aware of our own backyard as we are of the developments in the western world and wherever else the western media leads us. Our own media ‘cuts and pastes’ stories, sometimes stories about our land verbatim and delivers them to us. We need to see the world in our own eyes. This is what freedom is.
Freedom of the media is paramount. But that freedom comes with responsibility. The press should also support the country’s and regional development agendas. This calls for a lot more professionalism. It is frankly irksome when you read reports on a certain specialty written by a person who knows next to nothing about the subject matter, yet there they are trying to give ‘expert opinion’.!
This is irresponsible. Perhaps in areas where media houses have no skills they could, for example ask a nutritionist to write a column on nutrition and not give it to just anyone?
The media have power and that power must be used for good. It must also be regulated; remember, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Sam Kebongo is a skills and business advisory services consultant. He also teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.