Rwanda’s parliament recently passed the media bill, at a time when the media fraternity is experiencing momentous changes. The proponents of the bill hope to improve both the quality and quantity of the country’s media and its practitioners.
Walking on the streets of Kigali, one gets the impression that a new paper emerges everyday. Many of these are in the local Kinyarwanda language, constituting monthly publications or are published as and when the owner/editor/writer pleases to out an issue.
This is in spite of traditional newspapers (print media publications) being on a downward curve in terms of sales and attracting new readers. Apparently this is a global phenomenon. At the same time, there is a parallel of an upward trajectory by internet publications in terms of attracting more readers.
The decreasing popularity and resultant low sales of newspapers has been caused by a number of factors. The major one being “setbacks” of the traditional printed newspapers has been the advent and wide accessibility of the internet to the reading public.
Many people have now taken to accessing news through the internet, and as a result newspapers have suffered. For a newspaper to remain relevant, it has to have some leverage over the reading public. In most cases, best selling newspapers are those that sell news, views and opinions that are unique.
For one to carve out a market and maintain it forever, they have to sell something that is addictive to consumers. Most traditional newspapers-the up market ones, sell news that is not addictive and as such they are phasing out at a fast rate.
It has been reported that many papers in North America and Western Europe have been hit badly by the economic recession, and have begun laying workers off. Most traditional papers, it has emerged, are loss making entities because of the aforesaid reasons.
Revenues from advertising and sales are affected by market trends and hence a recession means that the papers also suffer. But at such times, there are industries that do not suffer so much. They include the tobacco industry, alcohol, and some beverages like coffee.
Others that have remained afloat include illegal drugs and adult entertainment. All these commodities have one thing in common. They are addictive.
In the newspaper industry, papers which are referred to as tabloids are able to make money with little or no advertising revenue. In the United Kingdom The Sun and its Sunday edition The News of the World, are said to be the best selling and at the same time with heavy traffic on their online versions.
They write stories in such a sensational way that they are endless episodes, which compel one to come back for more of the same story in the next edition.
They also focus on “every day”-mundane issues regarding who is who in society, rather than abstract and high sounding officialdom.
They are also popular with the young generation, who are also obsessed with internet social networking sites like meebo, face-book, my-space etc.
Many, who initiate newspapers, always have in mind one or two aims; firstly to make money and secondly, for the purposes of advocacy. Most tabloids exist to make money.
This is why they sell sensational stories that are addictive and you know as well as I do that people will always find ways of financing their addictions. As a result, papers referred to as tabloids are likely to remain in the market regardless of the state of the economy.
The up market papers that exist mainly for advocacy and with clear ideological boundaries seem to be the ones in retreat. They have suffered as a result of the advent of the internet and economic vagaries.
Thus their owners; big time corporations or governments and other organisations, have in most cases realized this and looked out for alternative ways of influencing public opinion. This is how the internet has become very critical to this latter group.
An article in the March 2, edition of News Week magazine, indicates that a unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has launched over 10,000 online blogs to counter other bloggers who hold secular views.
Barack Obama also rose to power assisted by an army of online bloggers who helped to influence public opinion in his favour.
Thus “blogsphere” seems to be on the verge of taking the place that was once occupied by newspapers.
With all these changes that have occasioned online citizen journalism, which may be immune from regulation, one only wonders how the media environment is going to play out in Rwanda.