What determines media freedom?

From Monday to Friday, I participated in a media workshop held by the Rwanda Initiative in the southern town of Butare.

From Monday to Friday, I participated in a media workshop held by the Rwanda Initiative in the southern town of Butare.

Talking to different people who participated as facilitators or otherwise, I got the impression that there is definitely a disconnection between different peoples understanding of what media freedom is or ought to be.

Many from the West who spoke like the former publisher and owner of the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest newspaper, John Honderich, argue that there should be unlimited media freedom. 

However, Journalist Andrew Mwenda, the publisher of The Independent, a Ugandan magazine, though believing in the importance of media freedom, said that if one called for Jihad in Palestine, he/ she would be considered a hero.

Whereas, if one called for the same in New York, that would be reminding New Yorkers of the horrors of September 11.

Thus given Mwendas argument, different communities have different values and norms that are shaped by their own unique historical circumstances.

The media in Rwanda has in the recent past been shaped by its role in the run-up to and during the Genocide. Thus when one talks of absolute freedoms for media practitioners’, many will definitely get jittery as they will be reminded of the catastrophic that befell Rwanda in 1994.

Some have argued that hate media is a direct result of hate power. So they postulate that there can never be a hate media in a country that is not under hate power.

This would have been the case if the media had remained in its traditional form of print, TV and Radio. But with the advent of the internet with everyone able to blog as they wish, hate media can be alive and well in a country that is not under hate power.

Whereas absolute media freedom is great and something deserved by all people, it is important to protect people from undesirable misrepresentations and misinformation.

Given our historical circumstances, especially with the knowledge that at one time Rwanda was under hate power, it is important to tread a careful path when putting across information, views and opinions through different mediums.

One of the tools of hate power was the use of the military to hang on to power and kill. Another tool was hate media.

At the moment it is common knowledge that those who carried out the Genocide are still out there in different countries.  The existence of the rag tag FDLR in the jungles of Eastern Congo is common knowledge.

The fact that the remnants of hate power are still mobilising militarily and politically should inform everyone that they have not abandoned some of their tactics of using hate media.

Thus it is logical that such characters will seek to use the media to advance their sectarian and genocidal agenda. That calls for regulating and monitoring media practitioners, so that they do not become tools of hate.

The media in most developing countries is still developing just like the countries. Even democratic values are still evolving.

If Western liberal democracy takes root in developing countries, then the principles and norms on which the liberal media in the west hinge on will also develop in the developing countries.

But the issue that remains debatable is; don’t people in the developing world or Africa specifically have their own unique social and political, ways of life that are unique to their own background. Does every country need Western norms?

What is obvious is that what works in the West does not necessarily replicate in other areas of the world. Even in the West, it took many centuries for people to realise the different kind of freedom that they are said to enjoy now.

Moreover we have been able in the last century to witness countries realising high levels of development without having taken the Western model of democracy. Most of the Asian Tigers have a social, economic and political way of life that is highly based on patriarchy something that negates Western values.

What is obvious is that institutions in developing countries like Rwanda will develop in a manner that is informed by our unique social, economic and political background.