Press freedom and the case of The Guardian in UK

More often than not, Rwanda has been on the receiving end of accusations by Western media and international media watchdogs as one of the countries where press freedom is suffocated and preyed upon.

More often than not, Rwanda has been on the receiving end of accusations by Western media and international media watchdogs as one of the countries where press freedom is suffocated and preyed upon.

The critics come up with accusations not forgetting that in 1994, the Rwandan media had a significant role in fuelling genocide, while the same accusing voices kept silent. I will later come back to the case of Rwanda but for the time being, let’s look at what recently transpired in the UK.

A few days ago, it was reported that from 10 Downing Street, UK Prime Minister David Cameron ordered Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood, to contact The Guardian newspaper about material it had obtained from US whistleblower Edward Snowden and later, The Guardian newspaper, was forced  to destroy computer files that contained leaks from the former US intelligence contractor.

Not only the voices called for the destruction of the files, but security expe=rts were dispatched to The Guardian’s London offices, to oversee, the physical destruction of the hard drives that contained Snowden’s leaks!

Again UK immigration authorities held for nine hours at Heathrow airport and interrogated, confiscated CDs and other materials of one David Miranda domestic partner of Glenn Greenwald, the Guardian Journalist who wrote about Snowden’s secrets.

I have not heard any condemning voices from media watchdogs, questioning British government’s crackdown on right to information and freedom of expression!

Its not surprising because we are used to the working of the ‘ international watchdog organisations’, because we are used to double standards when coming up with the criteria to use on developed countries and poor ones concerning what constitutes violation of the right to information and freedom of expression.  

Let me agree with the British authorities that probably the information destroyed would compromise the security of the country and put lives of its citizens at risk if it was to be published.

On the contrary, when a Rwandan journalist is reprimanded or a newspaper suspended for publishing material aimed at fuelling ethnic division, prophesying doom in the name of another genocide, media watchdogs and Western media jump on to condemn lack of freedom of everything.

 In 2003, the ICTR passed lengthy prison sentences (I mean by its standards) against three journalists, two who worked for the infamous hate radio RTLM, while the third, Ngeze Hassan was the editor of the venomous Kangura newspaper.

The so called international media watchdogs did nothing to prevent the hate media in Rwanda during genocide. Rwanda has learnt the hard way when it comes to relying on international organisation when lives of her citizens are in danger, and critics also know that those in leadership cannot again wait to see what bad media can do when it supports ethnic division, violence and killing.

Deterrent measures have to be exercised and should not be equated to lack of press freedom in the country.

When it comes to security concerns like in the case of Britain ordering The Guardian to destroy Snowden leaks, and Rwanda preventing fomenting ethnic division which led to genocide, makes it clear that there is a redline that should not be crossed in the name of media freedom.

 The writer is an analyst based in Kigali.

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