Move to transfer media regulatory duties to RURA sparks debate

A proposal in the draft Media Bill that gives the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) the mandate to regulate the media sector has prompted a heated debate over the agency’s capacity to carry out the additional duties.

A proposal in the draft Media Bill that gives the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) the mandate to regulate the media sector has prompted a heated debate over the agency’s capacity to carry out the additional duties.

Debate over the matter ensued yesterday at parliament as a Chamber of Deputies standing committee continued its scrutiny of the bill. 

Currently, the responsibility to regulate the media lies with the Media High Council (MHC). Under the new framework, the council will concentrate on media development and advocacy.

Albert Rudatsimburwa, owner of Contact FM, a local radio station, put the question to lawmakers in the Political Affairs and Gender Committee on what “the way forward” would be after the bills were passed.

Noting that “the media were something unique,” Rudatsimburwa said he did not understand the logic behind the proposal, especially after the MHC had spent years developing the capacity to regulate the media.

He cited that regulating media might be a challenge for RURA since the agency has hitherto been responsible for regulating utilities such as water, telecommunication and electricity.

“We might perhaps be innovative, but I haven’t seen this happen in any other country, where you move specifically the media to utilities!”

But Willy Rukundo, the acting Director General of the public media house, Orinfor, objected saying: “indeed Rwanda is very unique. There are many unique and reasonably beneficial things that had been done in this country and have worked.”

He noted that the MHC, under its new responsibilities of media development and advocacy, would not be the ideal organ to regulate the same sector it is meant to promote.

Patrice Mulama, the MHC Executive Secretary, described the debate as healthy since “we started by listening to various views and looking at practices elsewhere and at available options, and a position was taken”.

Mulama noted that capacity building was one of the most critical issues that needed to be urgently addressed in the media sector, stating that MHC’s revised mandate will make it possible to attend to the issue.

“Removing regulation responsibilities will enable us to concentrate much more and efficiently on media development and support.”

The Chairperson of the Committee, MP Alfred Rwasa Kayiranga, observed that there was no problem in moving media regulatory duties to RURA since the utility regulator can easily acquire the necessary capacity to do the job.

“It is not difficult to move some employees of the MHC to RURA to help create that capacity.”

The standing committee is yet to scrutinize the Access to Information bill, and two bills on the functioning and organization of the MHC as well as the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA).

The RBA will replace the state-owned Rwanda Office of Information (Orinfor) as the agency completes a longstanding plan to transform into a public broadcaster.

james.karuhanga@newtimes.co.rw

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