Mainstory: Rwanda’s media has come of age

In a bid to professionalise journalism, the government through ministry of public services, labour and skills development announced mid this year its intention to carry out Needs Assessment Audit.
2006 Golden Pen awards (File photo)
2006 Golden Pen awards (File photo)

In a bid to professionalise journalism, the government through ministry of public services, labour and skills development announced mid this year its intention to carry out Needs Assessment Audit.

According to Mifotra minister, Prof. Manasseh Nshuti, the audit would help journalists realize their strategic objectives of providing adequate knowledge and information for national development with a view of improving their skills.

Also information Minister, Prof. Laurent Nkusi had said in the past, the decision for the government to invest in the media was taken during the previous Government Retreat in Akagera Game Lodge earlier this year.

He said the aim is to promote journalists’ interests through training to ensure that professionalism takes root and to direct practitioners and media outlets on ethical and best practices, among other things.

The government is establishing a media center soon to accommodate and empower practicing journalists acquire much needed skills.

To understand Rwanda’s media developments through history, Sunday Times carried out extensive interviews among media chiefs, practitioners to have their say about the country’s the recent history of journalism.

Journalists’ body

“Gutter press is what the government hates. Then, we have loopholes in our 2002 press law which we- journalists need to address urgently,” says Rwanda Journalists’ Association president, Gaspard Safari.

The government, Safari said, has put in place the media policy and established laws that create an environment where media freedom can flourish.

“However, the biggest problem is that Journalists are not trained,” adds Safari in an interview at his Remera offices on Tuesday.

According to Safari, the 2004 Press law has shortcomings and needs some overhaul. He says the currently draft press law which is as a result of wide-ranging consultations among journalists and all media stakeholders shall address some loopholes carried in the 2002 Press law.

Gaspard observed that the current Press law does not specify what a journalist should have before he joins the field.

“There must be a minimum standard or requirements before one is regarded as a journalist. But this will be addressed in the new Bill,” Gaspard says.

He said media bodies in Rwanda had in the past extensively consulted neighbouring states and found Kigali still has a softer spot on her Journalists. In Kenya, you cannot be a journalist if you are not trained,” adds Gaspard.

Media houses

Information from ministry of information indicates that since 2004, over 50 private newspapers and 10 private radio stations have been opened.

And private media operators themselves define their editorial policies without government interference. The Journalists themselves have set up a code of ethics, which highlights the dos and don’ts in regard to media practice; and they have recently established an independent self-regulating organ as a peers’ control mechanism.

Apart from these laws supporting media freedom, the government has liberalised the media sector, thus enabling individuals and private enterprises to invest in print and broadcasting as long as right procedure is followed.

The managing director of Rwanda’s oldest Newspaper, Kiyamateka Fr. Dominc Karekezi told Sunday Times that the paper reports on all aspects of life ranging from social, economic and political issues.

He added that though there are many people committed to working in the media, most of them lack the necessary training and skills.

Karekezi further said that most of the journalists who are educated ultimately leave the news paper to look for greener pastures.

At Kinyamateka, according to Fr. Karekezi, there is only one journalist who has been there for five years, others have moved on.

The faith-based paper has won four trophies for excellence in journalism. According to Fr. Karekezi, the longevity of the paper is partly attributed to the fact that it never engaged in propagating the negative ideology during the 1994 Genocide.

He said that instead the paper helped to highlight incidents where people were being killed by Habyarimana dictatorship. Just as an example, the massacres of Bugesera prior to the 1994 Genocide. Karekezi also commended recent plans by government to establish a media training school in the country.

“It is important for journalists to go back and study so as to understand their profession better,” Said Karekezi, adding that the school will be important for the journalism profession.

Fr. Karekezi’s concerns in as far as attracting and retaining the best in the profession are also reflected in the words of Ignatius Kabagambe, the Managing Director of Rwanda’s first daily Newspaper The NewTimes.

He said most people who have gone to journalism schools are reluctant to join the profession. Kabagambe added that professionalism is required in the media and The New Times has an ongoing in-house program to equip practicing journalists with the basic skill of reporting news.

“Basic training does not necessarily mean going to journalism school. This can also be on-job training”.

Kabagambe as head of The New Times has seen it expand from a tri-weekly paper to a daily with more than a dozen up country offices today. More to this, a sister Kiyarwanda paper Izuba has been introduced.

This, according to the papers’ managing director implies that the paper is more representative of the country than before.

Spreading out across the country means we have developed as a media organization” adds Kabagambe. However, unlike Fr. Karekezi and Kabagambe, the Editor in Chief of the Business daily Marcel Museminari says lack of professionalism is not the main problem faced by the media in the country.

Museminari told Sunday Times that lack of capacity in form of finance and proper infrastructure are the main problems faced by the media.

“It wouldn’t be my priority…as long as there is a good environment, market forces will determine which paper survives”. He added that journalism is more to do with passion for the work than anything else.

Charles Kabonero, the managing director of the self-suspended Rwanda Independent Media Group (RIMEG) describes the 2002 Press law as one of the biggest achievements by media industry in Rwanda.

“We now operate within the confines of law unlike in the past. When there are laws in place, it is easy because you can be protected against those who are not happy with your story,” says Kabonero in a telephone interview on Wednesday.

Rimeg is the publishers of “Newsline”, “Umuseso” (vernacular) and “Rwanda Championi”.

Kabonero said operating in legal environment is productive because it creates a culture of solving controversial issues through legal means. He said in the past, there were no laws to guide journalists.

Another beauty achieved by the media industry, Kabonero added was for all members’ journalism fraternity to be given a chance and participate in the formulation of the current draft press bill before parliament.

He explained that in almost all winning nations, journalists play a leading role in the social, economic and political transformation of their countries and it is good to bring them (journalists) on board.

The Managing Director of ORINFOR, Oscar Kimanuka told Sunday Times that Rwanda’s media was in the past monopolized by the state which used it for wrong purposes like was the case that led up to the 1994 Genocide. 

That was the time when ORINFOR the state media body, controlled both the mainstream print and broadcast media.
Kimanuka added that the liberalization of the media that has been championed most especially by the current government has led to competition.

“We have several newspapers that are privately owned and they have created competition” said Kimanuka. This is an unprecedented development in the history of Rwanda’s media.

He also said that it is apparent that most of the practicing journalists in the country are not well trained and as such lack capacity and professional skills that are necessary for a well developed media. He said that ORINFOR constantly carries out continuous education for its journalists.

‘We encourage our journalists to go for further training and we also carry out in house training in order to improve on their skills”.

Tainted past

Rwanda’s media has been quoted by different publications and personalities as having played a leading role in fomenting the Genocide ideology.

The Rwandan media in the aftermath of the start of the RPF Liberation war in late 1990 was manipulated and controlled by powerful politicians who sought to use it as a tool of divisionism and hate. Two media outlets gained notoriety during the war and Genocide.

The Radio Television Liberal de mille Collines (a thousand hills radio television) RTLM and the Newspaper Kangura undertook the negative responsibility of fomenting a hateful propaganda campaign that was aimed at propagating a Genocide ideology through hateful incitement of the population.

The Newspaper Kangura according to a report published by the International Media Support (IMS) in March 2003 was created by powerful politicians at the time that had a negative agenda.

According to the report, Kangura was aimed at counteracting the first privately owned Newspaper Kanguka which had been established in 1988 and was supported by a prominent businessman Valens Kajeguhakwa.

Both were local papers that were in the local Kinyarwanda language. Kajeguhakwa”s Kanguka was mainly a sort of anti corruption watch dog which exposed many scandals that related to powerful politicians having a role in corruption cases.

Other publications followed suit after the success of Kaguka and Kiyamateka the church owned publication. Kangura as a counter weight to Kanguka was started by a clique of the late dictator Habyarimana close circle of politicians and hangers on.

Its initial mandate according to the IMS report was to fight the themes debated on in Kanguka. This fall perfectly in what I was told cynically by the editor of Invaho the Kinyarwanda local tri-weekly, Frank Ndambaje.

Ndambaje said that at that time a politician could start a news paper to insult a political opponent and close shop after feeling he had accomplished his limited mission-insulting.

Kangura a government backed Newspaper was born to answer back criticism from Kanguka and to do this it choose ethnic undertones which with time became open hate propaganda against sections of the population.

Kangura got an editor in the names of Hassan Ngeza who had prior to his appointment had worked ironically as a free lance journalist for Kanguka in up country Rwanda.

To show the role of the News paper Kangura, the ICTR tribunal in Arusha in 2003 came to a conclusion that Ngenza had “poisoned” the minds of readers and “caused death of hundreds of thousands”.

For his great zeal and commitment towards promoting hate through the media Ngeza earned himself a life in prison for the rest of his years on earth.

With the legalization of political parties and the end of one party politics in 1991 there mushroomed many newspapers at one time reaching up to sixty publications.

This was mainly due to the fact that every political tendency felt the compulsion to propagate their ideology be it negative or otherwise. Within a years time the papers had reduced by half. This was at the time when the liberation war had started.

According to the IMS report Newspapers that ventured into criticizing the Habyarimana dictatorship were specifically targeted. Many journalists were accused of being rebel supporters and ended up in detention.

Kangura played a key role in denouncing people as being supporters of the RPF Liberation war. At one time a list of several businessmen was published stating that they were supporters of the liberators.

Denunciation of an individual by Kangura would definitely have far reaching consequences. IMS in its 2003 report reported that Kangura journalists despite breaking the press law of the time were never prosecuted unlike other journalists from media out lets that were not towing the dictatorships line of thinking.

Accordingly the paper never faced financial hardship. At its peak it circulated 10000 copies and was printed free of charge at “imprimerie nationale”. Kangura was not the only Newspaper in the business of promoting ethnic hatred. Almost ten publications existed for that purpose.

The extremist political party CDR and some government and military people ran publications with one known as “umurava”. Kangura as a print media out let was supplemented in its hate campaign by the broadcast Radio RTLM.

Its manager Ferdinand Nahimana now cooling his heel in Prison for his role in the Genocide had worked as the head of the government owned ORINFOR. It is widely acknowledged that he sought to use Radio as a tool of hate and Genocide.

His experience at ORINFOR is seen by pundits as having impacted on his thinking. As Hutu power ideologue and Professor of History he had devised and popularized the negative Genocide ideology in sections of the intelligentsia.

Thus private radio in Rwanda was a tool of promoting divisionism and hate as evidenced by the role of RTLM under the guidance of the intellectual Nahimana. RTLM was run by eight journalists who had worked with radio Rwanda.

During the Genocide the radio was a tool for killing. Lists of people to be killed were read on the radio and directed the interahamwe militia where they could find their victims.