Contributing to the press law debate

People who really care about the situation of the media industry in Rwanda and have been craving for a chance to make constructive contribution now can do so. The Press Bill, which seeks to put in place a new media-governing law, is currently under debate in parliament.

People who really care about the situation of the media industry in Rwanda and have been craving for a chance to make constructive contribution now can do so. The Press Bill, which seeks to put in place a new media-governing law, is currently under debate in parliament.

There are a number of salient issues up for discussion in the bill, one of them being the proposal that journalists practising in Rwanda must possess a certain level of academic qualification.

Whereas this would ensure that journalists operating in the country have a minimum conceptualisation of their surroundings, reasonable command of the language and dynamics of the medium of communication, it would not necessarily mean comprehension of the basics, ethics and principles of journalism.

On that note we propose that acquisition of elementary journalistic skills, such as a certificate, in the case of someone initially trained in a different field be a requirement. For the person whose first specialised training is journalism, let the minimum qualification be a diploma.

This would give us reporters who detest arm-chair journalism and rely on evidence to conjure descriptive adjectives when analysing trends (for example saying the scenario is many-sided but end up giving only one aspect of it).

We would have editors who magnify the relevant and suppress non-issues, professionals who would be true gate keepers, setting the agenda, moderating debate, marrying the text and picture contexts (in the case of print journalism), and generally living to their billing as highly responsible people.

The other proposal we think merits intensive scrutiny is about minimum mandatory start-up capital for entrepreneurs intending to venture into print or broadcast business. It is stated in the bill that for radio stations Frw50m will be required, Frw100m for television, while Frw6m will suffice for newspapers or magazines.

The print category is where we are comfortable giving our take, and we ask: how far would a publisher move with Frw6m? Even if we assumed this is cash at hand after furnishing the newsroom with furniture, computers, printer, local area network, telephone, stationery, internet, etc, printing costs, salaries, rent, utilities and logistics would have to be catered for, at least for the first six months.

This is because advertisers, the lifeblood of media enterprises, do not come in with their money until they have established the kind and size of readership you appeal and reach out to. And yet this is a process with the length through which Frw6m would never see a publication, even of the smallest size. Think upwards of Frw50m.     

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