I often enjoy the way the Kinyarwanda/Kirundi BBB programme imvo n’imvano treats topical issues from the Great Lakes Region on Saturday morning. But last Saturday was disappointing. The topic about the Rwanda Media Law amendment promised good listening because the media in Rwanda has been subject of debate for some time. What made the show even more topical was the fact that the bill was being debated by a standing parliamentary committee in consultation with experts and stakeholders in an open forum. The statement by a Director General in the lower house Of Parliament that “laws are drafted or repealed depending the needs of the people” in a different context, serves to explain the conditions for changes in our laws.
The Imvo n”Imvano coordinator usually attempts to steer the discussions, on this popular programme, towards rational and balanced discourses by inviting individuals capable of contributing constructively to issues at hand. However, last Saturday Yussuf Mugenzi diluted the debate by pitting the Director General in the Prime Minister’s office, Ignatius Kabagambe against two journalists currently living abroad whose parochialism has earned them notoriety.
Although Kabagambe ably presented the rationale for the proposed changes in the law, discussed the benefits expected from the amended law to the media fraternity and the public and heighted areas of the law that were under review, both Charles Kabonero and Nelson Gatsimbazi could not rise to the occasion to contribute to the proposed law, but stuck to their usual negative rhetoric directed at narrow interests.
For some time the duo have criticized the powerful position held by the Media High Council (MHC). Their vehemence might have been motivated by the numerous encounters with the council in its exercise of the responsibility to regulate the media. Both Musekeweya and Umuvugizi news papers owned by Kabonero and Gatsimbazi respectively, flouted the media law, journalists code of ethics and general decency so frequently that they were often on collision course with MHC.So now that the new law aims at self-regulation by media practitioners, why don’t they embrace the change ?
Instead of contributing to the debate, they went on to abusively suggest that after them other independent journalists are controlled by the government, which in their trade mark they call gokorera mukwaha kwa leta or (lit. working under the armpit of the government), implying that self regulation will be controlled by the state. This is really missing the point for whether regulation is by the MHC or journalists themselves, the law must be observed and the government has that responsibility.
The debate went on without the two gentlemen addressing the topic. Much as he tried to get them on course Mugenzi could not even elicit their views on whether they would return home to practice their profession as the law makers are in the process of amending the law in relation to defamation. Their stance remains static and they don’t seem to realize changes in their country, their condition and the world outlook.
Change is a human phenomenon evident in all forms of social development, and we should endeavor to embrace it to influence positive social change. As Theogene Rudasingwa demonstrated on BBC on Thursday, untruths do not endure. When questioned about his earlier statement about the downing of President Habyarimana’s plane, he could not deny that the projectile which hit the plane originated from Kanombe Military Barracks, where RPA soldiers had no access, he could not deny the fact and was too ashamed to repeat his earlier version, instead he used their air time to drum up his usual unfounded accusation of the government of Rwanda. It would be naïve to expect listeners to believe that the Rwanda government could influence the French judges.
Similarly Gatsimbazi and Kabonero, could not miss the opportunity to repeat their usual outbursts about lack of freedom of press in Rwanda. Consider the recent story ran by Gatsimbazi’s Umuvugizi, that Lt.General Charles Muhire had fled the country. The most amateurish journalist would have established the truth within a short time and at very little cost given the nature of Kigali. Indeed Ishema journalist found the general with his children swimming at a local hotel, and talked to him. The general said he would not sue the paper as it would just waste his time. Is there no freedom of press? Is this the freedom of press we have to tolerate! As Kabagambe put it, self regulation can reduce legal tussles the general avoided when publishers ensure that rules and codes of journalism are followed, and if need be act like Rupert Murdoch who closed his NEWS OF THE WORLD, Britain’s best-selling Sunday newspaper, when the phone-hacking affair was exposed, leading to 200 people loosing jobs.
Personally I support changes in the defamation clause, auto-regulation, but I find it hard to see why people are trying to define the relevance of the Media High Council in its present form.MHC should be a civil society organization, modeled on the Media Council of Tanzania. According to its website MCT is an independent, voluntary non-statutory body with the objective of assisting and maintaining freedom of the media in the United Republic of Tanzania. The development of the media could be left to universities and other development agencies.