Recently, together with a host of other practicing journalists, I attended a much-needed training seminar targeted at media practitioners on their conduct during the coming national elections – scheduled for September.
This especially was timely given the fact that this sensitive trade is among the institutions that have lagged behind compared to others in the post-genocide Rwanda.
Courtesy of the High Council of the Press (HCP) which organized the event; given the important role we journalists are going to play in covering the election process, we are duty bound to inform the public on the elections, as much as we are also compelled to cover the various candidates fairly.
Though, the sidelines of this seminar also gave me a shocking picture on the reality the dark side of my profession.
Here, my compatriots will have to excuse me for exposing, what to some may have been deemed a ‘professional secret’ because most of what I saw to them was normal normal journalistic practice ; scribes lacking the courage to pen this out of the ordinary behavior by some of us.
It is the second day of the well attended useful training and as we were attentively listening to our morning presenter, a baby cries outside in the car park.
Here everyone was kind of shocked owing it to the fact that the venue where the training was conducted belongs to the Catholic Church and all the employees are monks making the presence of a baby on the premises all a surprise to many because catholic monks are not known to having kids around.
Then a lady participant, who had been quietly seated at the back, goes out in the direction of the now sobbing baby, went inside the bus and started breastfeeding.
All this was still normal to me as I thought the participant, a fellow scribe had just wanted to carry the baby continuing with maternal obligations; while advancing her professional career. A noble balancing act one would conclude.
Lo and behold! All was not as it appeared, It was not until a short break later that I got to know that this lady wasn’t a journalist but her husband (he works with one of the not-so-regular newspapers), who was indeed, among the participants!
I further discover this small family of journalist, wife and baby were out to earn themselves an extra 5,000Frw the HCP was disbursing as a per diem for journalists participating in the training.
I was prompted to ponder so much especially pertaining to the direction of our media notwithstanding the fact that it has been said to have taken a significant step ahead following the 1994 Tutsi Genocide.
Specifically I got the sinking feeling that the benchmarks that were used may have been merely based on the number of media outlets that we have. Not on the quality of the scribes.
I am not in total disagreement with this school of thought that the media has not improved but I have to insist that development should not only be judged from numbers lest we forget the importance of- ethics.
Without ethics believe you me this otherwise sacred profession is doomed.
It is common knowledge that our media is incapacitated in terms of resources but I am in total disagreement with some people who use this shortfall to disregard the ethics and integrity to which we are all supposed to be bound.
What is the value system that will guide the conduct of journalists in the transformed Rwanda? A question seminar presenters were at pains to explain.
Jurist Theogene Karake implored upon those looking for wealth to look outside the media industry; as the media is an industry that is driven on passion rather than just earning a living.
I totally agree with him…we shall not sit about and watch people tarnish the image of this profession in the name of making ends meet. To make matters worse in such a disgraceful manner without shame.
The only way we shall put an end to such embarrassing incidents like these is to expose them whenever they occur.
As it was repeatedly said by the HCP Executive Secretary, Patrice Mulama, this electoral period where the country is heading is a trying moment for journalists especially when politicians will be doing all it takes to compromise the integrity and objectivity of media practitioners in order to take their propaganda through to the electorate.
We should therefore look beyond earning our daily bread and embark on doing what the public expects of us which is reporting balanced and objective stories and as we work on the revival of our dignity so callously shattered in the pre-genocide era.