Parliament resumes scrutiny of media law

Fresh scrutiny of four media bills by the Political Affairs and Gender Committee, which were previously approved by the plenary session in August, begun yesterday morning.
Newspaper vendors in Kigali. Parliamentarians are discussing media bills aimed at streamlining the profession. The New Times / John Mbanda.
Newspaper vendors in Kigali. Parliamentarians are discussing media bills aimed at streamlining the profession. The New Times / John Mbanda.

Fresh scrutiny of four media bills by the Political Affairs and Gender Committee, which were previously approved by the plenary session in August, begun yesterday morning.

First to be tabled was the draft Media Bill. The Committee aims to expedite work on the legislations’ before year end. At the onset, Protais Musoni, Minister in charge of Cabinet Affairs, told the Committee that unlike in the 2009 law, unnecessary clauses hampering the media were removed from the bill.

Musoni referred to articles including that on the amount of money required to set up a media house and another that required journalists to have specific academic qualifications to practice journalism in the country.

The Lower Chamber had proposed that Rwf 50 million be the initial capital requirement for radio stations, Rwf 100 million for television station and Rwf 6 million for print media.

Previously, the draft law also required a Rwandan journalist to have, either an associate’s degree in journalism or communication, a certificate obtained from an institute of journalism and communication, or a university degree in another field with training in journalism.

MP Amiel Ngabo Semahundo disagreed with some removal of the restrictive clauses. His concerns hinged on the worry that cutting all restrictions would compromise quality in the media.

Hon. Semahundo said: “Can’t this be countering the building of a professional media. Maybe they [requirements] can be lessened, the money and even the high academic requirements. I feel there should at least be a minimum.”

The Minister responded that it will not compromise quality as the competition in the market will eliminate poor quality media, and that it was realized that even people who have not gone to journalism school have superb journalistic skills and should not be denied the chance to use them.

“When entry into a sector is easy, competition often goes up and this helps the profession advance fast,” Musoni said.

“In qualifications as well, it is not that we wish the media to have unqualified people. We realized that [in other places] for one to join the journalism profession, they do not need have only studied journalism. But media practitioners will also want to employ competent people so as to give quality. There will be an editors’ forum and their [journalists’] association which will monitor to see that the profession is not abused” he explained,

The Chairperson of the Committee, MP Alfred Rwasa Kayiranga, backed Musoni on the funds issue but also preferred that at least some basic minimum academic requirement be set.

 Musoni told the MPs that he knows of a cartoonist in the region who is exceptional but has not much in terms of academic qualifications.

“Even if we put senior six as the limit, you can find someone who only completed primary school but is better than a university graduate,” he said.

Jean Baptiste Ndabananiye, a journalist with Contact FM, told The New Times that what matters most is having a passion for the job.

 “It has always been argued that serious journalists are not necessarily those who have graduated from journalism school. But this does not mean that one who has taken time to go through journalism school will fail, when committed to a career in journalism” Ndabananiye, a graduate of the National University of Rwanda School of Journalism, said.

“I agree that if you give great value to this profession, you will do it well and even better than those who went to study it. With passion, you do it better, whether you graduated from journalism school or not”.

According to Musoni, the legislations aim to help the media sector advance and facilitate investment in the sector.

Apart from the Media Bill, lawmakers are also examining a bill on access to information, and two bills on the functioning and organization of the Media High Council (MHC), as well as the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA).

Unlike before, media regulation will now be carried out by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA).

The bill on access to information aims to enable the public access to information in the hands of public institutions, and some private bodies.

To achieve this, principles to be followed include promoting open government through maximum disclosure of information; facilitating the right of all persons to have access to information held by public authorities; and to require public authorities to proactively publish and disseminate information to the public.

The lawmakers plan to have completed work on the bills by Friday.  

james.karuhanga@newtimes.co.rw

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