Media practitioners have described Wednesday’s government’s approval of a string of proposed media reforms as a ‘major step forward’ and immediately called on Members of Parliament to consider the draft bills as a major priority.
The Minister of Cabinet and the Caretaker of the Information portfolio, Protais Musoni, told The New Times last evening that he would be forwarding the bills to the Chamber of Parliament today.
The Cabinet approved the long-awaited Access to Information Bill, which, if enacted into law, will be the first of its kind in the country, and seventh in Africa. Also approved are the draft media law, the bill on the revised mandate of the Media High Council (MHC), the draft law governing the recently approved Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, as well as the revised media policy.
The revision of both the 2009 Media Law as well as the 2009 MHC law were largely prompted by a recent government decision to entrust media regulatory functions with an independent body of media professionals, which have hitherto been the reserve of the MHC.
“Of course, this is an impressive move by the government; particularly the Access to Information law that will ease the job of journalists since officials will be compelled to release information within a reasonable timeframe,” said Shyaka Kanuma, the Managing Director of Focus newspaper. “I hope the MPs speed up the reforms”.
Similar sentiments were expressed by Mark Ramba, the Editor of Umuseke newspaper:
“The coming of these reforms certainly has a huge implication on the profession Once journalists start to access news without the same difficulties as is the case today, chances of relying on speculation will become minimal.”
“It’s now up to Parliament to do the necessary by expeditiously debating these bills and approving them without unnecessary delays,” he added.
Both chambers of parliament are currently on recess but they will commence their 2011 second ordinary session on Monday, June 6, according to Augustin Habimana, the Director General of Communication and Outreach in Parliament.
“The lawmakers are unlikely to look into the media bills next week because the agenda for next week has already been finalised and communicated,” according to Habimana.
Minister Musoni said he hopes the draft laws will have gone through the entire process by December.
Article 34 of the Access to Information Bill states that any public official who refuses to release public information shall be liable, before the office of the Ombudsman, to a fine ranging from Rwf 100,000 to Rwf 300,000 and, before a court, to a fine ranging from Rwf 100,000 to Rwf 500,000.
It adds that; “In case of recidivism, a person who has previously been convicted of an offence under this Article shall be liable to a fine ranging from Rwf 1,000,000 to Rwf 2,000,000 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or both.”
The same fine and a jail term will be invoked against any person who confiscates information and does so intending to prevent the disclosure of such information in accordance with the requirements of the law.