The ongoing media reforms outline a framework by the Government to enhance the professionalism and plurality of a responsible and economically vibrant media sector.
The objective of these reforms is to contribute to the continuing social economic and democratic development of the country, by building up the media sector to further engage with civil society within a framework of peace, stability and national security.
The goal of media reform is in line with existing government policy and Rwanda’s Constitutional commitment to freedom of expression.
It is also in line with official objectives outlined within Vision 2020, EDPRS, the seven year program of 2010-17, Millennium Development Goals and other strategies to continue the democratic, economic and social development of Rwanda in the interests of her people.
It’s clear that independence of the media, professionalism and access to information are essential components for good governance and preconditions for durable economic, social and political development.
Indeed, Article 34 (1) of the 2003 Constitution stipulates that “freedom of the press and freedom of information are recognized and guaranteed by the state.”
And, based on Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) and other International Conventions on human rights that Rwanda is a party to; the Government is determined to promote transparency and good governance.
Rwanda Government recognizes that, having a media literate citizenry is an essential precondition for transparency and accountability, rapid development and effective engagement in regional and global relationship. In a nutshell, we seek to build a vibrant responsible media that is prepared to lead the way into the future, and it is within our means to facilitate free flow of information within our society.
In this regard, Access to Information draft law was recently adopted by the cabinet and we do hope that this law will further promote participation and inclusiveness by not only the media practitioners but also government officials and the entire citizenry.
Therefore, the major objective of this article is to provide a platform for open debate by all stakeholders on the challenges of implementing the proposed law and agreeing on appropriate strategies to ensure that each partner understands and is prepared to play their rightful role once the law is promulgated in as far as free flow of information is concerned.
We acknowledge the role access to information law will play in improving open and transparent governance, increase citizen awareness of policies and programmes being implemented on their behalf and accelerate social economic development.
Enhancing the flow of information helps promote government accountability and a sense of trust among the people about the government and public authorities.
It is also a key tool in combating corruption and other forms of public wrongdoing. The Government takes information about what is being done for the public as a necessity to the people.
Access to Information facilitates unrestricted flow of information thus promotes predictability of state actions and makes transactions less costly.
Access to information is not only a right but a means to improved professionalism. With accurate information, rumors, speculation and inaccurate reporting, a major feature of the underdeveloped media sector, could not only be avoided but can be shunned by the public.
In the last 16 years, the media in this country has made significant strides which, among others, include; changing from a state media monopoly to a diversified and pluralistic one.
The current media reforms have a number of objectives that, among others, include Professionalism – fairness, accuracy, quality and independence, competitiveness, self-regulation and responsible media sector, positive, vibrant and free media sector, Engagement & social cohesion – a well-informed citizenry that supports development and growth, engagement and accountability.
Building an independent media sector requires a competitive market environment, to ensure efficiency and cost-effectiveness, innovation and attractive products, and diverse market opportunities and interests open to new ideas and initiatives. Indeed, reforms in the media will seek to create media that meet national, regional and global needs and expectations.
Yet the changes in the media sector will be incremental in nature and will be done over a period of time to allow a smooth transition from the current set up. Such phased implementation will ensure minimal disruption of the operations of the media.
The process of media reforms will only be successful if all stakeholders are consulted and actively involved with the process. The stakeholders to be consulted in the process will include but not limited to media owners, senior media managers, local and international practitioners, civil society, government officials, academics and the public. Proposed changes shall be exhaustively debated before being adopted to ensure that they take on board differing viewpoints.
The author is the Minister of Cabinet Affairs/Care Taker of Ministry of Information