Are watchdogs at logger heads in Rwanda?

A continuous trend seems to be taking shape, with some members of the police force allegedly taking the law into their hands, and meting out harsh treatment to journalists.A number of cases have been reported in the recent past.

A continuous trend seems to be taking shape, with some members of the police force allegedly taking the law into their hands, and meting out harsh treatment to journalists.
A number of cases have been reported in the recent past.

A most recent case was on Tuesday evening, when two journalists working with the New Times left office on routine duty. Ignatius Ssunna and George Baryamwisaki a.k.a Barya left office thinking they were heading out for routine normal duty.

But this was not to be as Baryamwisaki was allegedly roughed up and beaten by a policeman, who he had photographed in the Remera suburb as he chased hawkers off the streets.

This case and several others that have taken place in the past are definitely not sanctioned by the leadership and top command of the national police force. Indeed, the top leadership of the police has committed itself to investigate and find out what transpired on the acrimonious Tuesday evening.

What is apparent however from this incident, and other related cases, is the fact that there is scant knowledge among most especially junior police officers in as far as police-media relations is concerned. The fact that the media is an ally of the police in achieving law and order in the country does not exist in the mind and understanding of such a member of the force that chooses to beat up a fellow watchdog.

Whether provoked or not, a member of the police must be the most disciplined member of any society. Policemen are ideally, trained to always exhibit restraint from using force except, in extreme cases where they have to defend themselves against for example armed robbers. There can be little excuse for beating up an unarmed journalist whose only weapon is his pen and or camera.

It is apparent that a number of police officers and even departments of police face great challenges when executing their duties. This is common in all police forces across the world. It is not unique to any country or department of police.

Friday this week, the website www.policemediarelations.com quoted an American police media relations expert Chris Ryan as saying that, police in the twenty first century faces a number of challenges which include non lethal weapons, home land security and aggressive news reporting among others.

Most successful journalists have to be very aggressive in order to make it in this tough calling. This at times puts one on a collision course with a number of people. What is important however in my view is how such contradictions are handled by both the police and the media practitioners.

Members of the police forces and practicing journalists need to be trained and sensitized on how they can relate while on duty. This is important because the police and the media will always have a confluence while executing their duties.

The high levels of the police managers in most cases always know how to basically deal with the media. Most News papers and Radio stations not to mention Television stations allow police publicists to talk and build their image through such news outlets.

This clearly illustrates why and how the media and police should remain closely linked in their duties.

Police media relations training has evolved into a critical course for most law enforcement bodies. Among others, it entails issues like police media relations in a free society, crisis and crime scene communications, verbal and non verbal message development, tactical media relations, interview and new conference preparation.

Thus if the media and the police officers are to find common ground on which to proceed harmoniously, there is need to carry out seminars that help both sides to understand how to relate and where the boundaries are in order to realize their targets. When this has been carried out there will be no excuse whatsoever in case such a case happens again.

This is in case such a program does not exist in the police force. The beating up of Barya shows that such training is absolutely necessary.

Building state institutions however is always a challenge for countries, most especially developing ones like Rwanda. It needs concerted efforts by all stake holders. Everyone including the media ought to render unqualified support.

The media can also play a role by always highlighting what may not be going according to the established code of conduct by some members of such institutions as the police.                                                                                

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