This week parliament debated the proposed media law that seeks to streamline media practice in Rwanda, and at the same time facilitate the process of professionalizing the media. The move to help media practitioners gain further skills is a commendable step.
Rwanda has a unique history when it comes to media practice. The role that was played by the media in fomenting hatred and consequently genocide has been told and retold for so long.
Logically, the media in Rwanda has to tread a careful path and the state has a duty to play the guiding role given our history.
As British war time Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill said: “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
Thus it becomes clear to all stakeholders in the media industry, that our unique history has a lot to teach us if we are to have a progressive and constructive media.
For some time now, a number of editors and journalists in what is regarded as the independent press have been on a collision course with the authorities. This is not a situation unique only to Rwanda.
However, given the circumstances of the media in Rwanda, it would be prudent and an act of pragmatism if the people running and publishing papers that are seen to be anti-government carried out some kind of rapprochement.
No institution or individual anywhere in the world is ever going to give succor to those who actively work in a way that is seen to undermine their work.
More still, in most developing countries, the state is always the most important source of advertising revenues for the media especially the newspapers.
Thus one would think that an astute and shrewd media entrepreneur in a developing country, without a highly developed private sector would never seek to antagonize what would be his potential source of revenue.
Even in highly developed countries where a lot of money is in the hands of the private sector, media outlets will never “attack” businesses that are potential sources of advertising revenues or any other potential ally without full justification.
Given the nature of developing economies, “independent media” can be objective and at the same time work hand in hand with the state in pursuit of noble goals. The challenges faced by a country like Rwanda require partnerships and not unnecessary antagonism.
Many practicing journalists in the country need to be able to appreciate that basic premise. I think that the goal of having well educated and qualified people working in the media can be achieved, only if there is an attractive package for people who have invested a lot in terms of money and time in education.
Otherwise many will shun the media or use it as a stepping stone for greener pastures. Hence for the well educated it becomes a “transit camp” of sorts as they look for more lucrative employment.
This leaves the media especially the “independent” papers in the hands of the urban lumpen proletariat. In most cases these are lacking in terms of ambition or sophistication to push the press to higher levels of objectivity and large scale profit generating activities.
With a number of the “I have nothing to lose” kind of journalists in charge of putting out newspapers, anything can be published regardless of the consequences. In most developed countries many news outlets are owned and controlled by big time capitalists.
People like Rupert Murdoch who owns the media conglomerate News Corporation (News corp.) has got a real stake in the stability of the countries in which he owns media outlets.
This implies that none of his media outlets will ever publish, or broadcast anything that would jeopardize the national security or strategic interests of the countries in which he owns businesses.
Many strategic industries (which I believe the media is) in the west were propped up and supported by the state in order to survive and grow.
Even Associated Press (AP) was a result of several American newspapers coming together in order to pool resources and collect news from Europe better. That was in 1846, a century and a half ago.
The several scattered and struggling newspapers in the country can do better if they are merged, and better still put in the hands of people who can mobilize necessary capital to develop them further, and hence contribute to national development by providing employment to many others.