Has Rwanda’s Journalism become a short-cut to greener pastures?

Do you want a quick visa to Western Europe or any Scandinavian country or the Oceania or even North American, without necessarily going through the tedious visa application process.Simple!  Wake-up next morning, masquerade as a journalist and probably scribble some rubbish (never mind even if its plagiarism) and thereafter claim persecution.

Do you want a quick visa to Western Europe or any Scandinavian country or the Oceania or even North American, without necessarily going through the tedious visa application process.

Simple!  Wake-up next morning, masquerade as a journalist and probably scribble some rubbish (never mind even if its plagiarism) and thereafter claim persecution.

Make sure your noise is loud enough to reach the door steps of Reporters without Borders (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) or Human Rights Watch (HRW).

Because the word verification is non-existent in the vocabulary of these watch-dogs, you will certainly see a statement at the end of the day.

And once this ‘copy, paste’ release with headlines like ‘Bi-monthly shuts after receiving threats,’ is made public, then print a copy and circulate around, targeting mainly embassies of preferred destination. 

The next day, you might find yourself in Sydney, Stockholm or London.

To be honest, it seems the new breed of our self-made journalists are joining the industry not out of the desire to serve but rather as an easy gateway to the Western capitals, where they naively think life is simpler.

Initially, I had wanted to ignore the recent pronouncement from one, Gakire Fidele of Ishema newspaper, regarding his decision to suspend publication of his newspaper due to what he termed harassment’ from the media regulatory body.

The persistent lies peddled by watchdogs on this issue, have compelled me to make a few clarifications, especially in my capacity as a person who serves on the board of Media High Council.

To begin with, Ishema is one of those briefcase newspapers whose periodicity is a myth. It is/was a little known title until a recent reckless issue that carried a defamatory piece against the Head of State. 

The story was not only libelous, defamatory and insulting to the person of the President, it was also a clear case of plagiarism.  

But despite these professional short-comings, the Media High Council (MHC) was lenient enough not to summon the publisher in accordance with the media law because of one compelling reason.

As a public institution, the regulatory body has been at the helm of supporting the new stand taken by government to promote self-regulation of the industry.

The process is already in full gear after cabinet adopted amendments to the existing media law and the Media High Council law that is now in parliament.

Therefore, mindful of this new orientation, when the board of the MHC met to deliberate on the unprofessional conduct of this paper our conclusions were guided by the new spirit of letting the media regulate itself.

The Board simply commended the earlier decision or pronouncement made by the independent journalists’ association and called upon Ishema owner to heed the professional advice his colleagues had provided especially on issues of plagiarism, defamation and publishing unfounded stories.  That is where we stopped.

A few days later, I was surprised to read his farfetched allegations that the MHC was hunting him down, leaving him with no other alternative but to temporarily close his tabloid.

From this, one can only conclude that the pile of ethical mistakes in some of the titles we see on our streets are partly done not out of naivety but rather out of clear conscience with an aim of raising people’s antennas or most especially, seeking sanction from the MHC.

Once the MHC or government raises concern over the bad intent in the stories, it indirectly hands a golden opportunity to the owners or authors of these publications whose next step will be shouting all sorts of allegations, targeting the ears of the chaps in Paris, London and New York and hence laying ground for possible exit.

Like I said, because these chaps do not take time to verify their facts and because Rwanda has turned into their punching bag, they quickly issue condemnations, never to mind the ethical mistakes that are clearly evident.

In the past, the MHC has been accused of being too harsh in enforcing the media law. As such, it has suspended and occasionally closed newspapers. But what we see through Ishema’s acts is the opposite. An editor out of his own will, decides to close his paper and sarcastically blames the MHC for not helping him do so.

The reasons for this are probably two fold. First that because the likes of Ishema are makeshift publications whose survival depends on the next blackmail story, when their tactics of survival are exposed, they become like wounded buffaloes, with no other excuses apart from finding a scapegoat as they fold.

Secondly, just like in the past, the local media industry seems to an easy ground that provides the most viable gate-pass into the western world since the only visa application requirement is crying foul in the name of harassment, intimidation and political persecution. It is a tool that seems to be attracting many quacks.

Therefore, as self-regulation becomes a reality, the challenge going forward is how the local media will shed this growing manipulation of the profession. 

On twitter @aasiimwe
akaeus@yahoo.com

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