Rwandan journalists marked the African Media Day, in Kigali, yesterday, with calls for more professionalism among practitioners, and support from the government as well as other stakeholders.
It was a day on which the media reviewed their work, both in terms of content and business sense, and raised their concerns with the government, particularly on the issue of accessing public adverts.
They also cited low levels of investment in the media industry as a major bottleneck in the quest to turn a new page.
The meeting was organised under the theme: “Building a Vibrant, Viable and Independent Media in Rwanda.”
Participants complained that the government had done little to boost the industry in contrast to its efforts to attract scores of investors in other sectors, making it lag behind at the regional level. They also pointed a finger at the existing media associations, and urged them to be more active and relevant to their members.
It was said that due poor remuneration in media, experienced journalists are easily poached by better paying institutions, especially to work as public relations officers, further widening the capacity gap in the sector.
Bukuru Ntwari, a local journalist, pointed out that capacity building remains a big challenge in the media, but also cited low levels of professionalism and lack of specialised reporting.
“We must evaluate ourselves. In all the challenges affecting our industry, lack of investments remain a big problem…we cannot sustain ourselves because we hardly make money. I think the government needs to intervene,” he remarked.
He further observed that the industry is also besieged by inexperienced practitioners who sometimes do not specialize in reporting hence the stunted growth of the industry.
“You will find the same journalist reporting on politics, economic, environment and health which is unprofessional. It’s only in sports where reporters tend to specialise.”
Journalists also requested that the government sets up a media support fund, pointing to a previously abandoned idea about such an initiative. They also called for open competition for public advertisements.
“The government is the largest advertiser here, which is why there is need to open up the market – by making the process more competitive,” said Theodore Ntarindwa, the proprietor of Umwezi newspaper.
He also decried what he called a poor reading culture among Rwandans, blaming the situation to history.
“All countries that were colonised by Britain have a good reading culture. Somebody wakes up in the morning, buys a newspaper because he wants to read, but here, people prefer radios; they don’t want to read which affects the sector so much,” added Ntarindwa, also president of the forum for private newspapers.
But he expressed optimism saying the trend was ‘gradually’ being reversed, thanks to continued sensitisation and the country’s admission to the English-speaking East African Community.
The Minister in charge of Cabinet Affairs, Protais Musoni, pledged continued government support, saying it was also in the government’s interest to have a vibrant and competitive media industry.
He challenged journalists and media associations to get better organised, adding that the government was willing to partner with them in their pursuits.
They discussed the ongoing process to establish a media self-regulation structure, the ongoing reforms with the media associations, among others.
Some participants advised media owners to consider merging their businesses to benefit from the economies of scale, but the majority of them dismissed the idea.
The leadership of Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) updated members about the ongoing process to transform into a labour union, saying they were planning a general assembly early next month to determine the way forward, including setting the election date.