Yesterday, the Rwanda Association of Journalists (ARJ), held a commemorative march, in memory of journalists who were killed during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
Scores of scribes, in purple regalia, marched to the Gisozi Memorial Site, as they reflected on the fate of fellow journalists, who were targeted and killed while on duty before and during the Genocide.
Official statistics place those killed at 49, though some independent analysts say the figure could be higher.
The march by the journalists comes at a time when the media in Rwanda is at a turning point. There is much vibrancy as journalists start to think of a union to advocate for their welfare, while government is in the final stages of putting in place a Media Law; including reinforcing the capacity of media training institutions.
The positive developments in the media, reach a peak just when the country, is about to celebrate, 15 years of liberation.
By any measure, the state the media was left in 15 years ago can best be described as non-existent, as it too was burnt down to ashes, needing a rebirth.
A huge gap was left in the media if you take into account the 49 who died.
On the other hand, there are those who were instigators, fanning the flames of the Genocide, some of whom have since been convicted, while others are on the run. A journalist was trapped on either side – as a victim or perpetrator.
The term ‘hate speech’ was popularized at this time in describing, the venom spewed by the perpetrating journalists, as they encouraged neighbour to kill neighbour, husband to turn against Tutsi wife and children.
This is the background today, against which the lively debate takes place in Rwanda, on the media journalists want to see.
The real challenge lies in the media industry’s ability to groom ethical, professional journalists, who will rise above the decadence of the past.
That is why on top of having ARJ turn itself into a union, other media regulatory bodies such as the High Press Council (HPC) have an important role to play in ensuring accountability and fair play in the industry.
Another challenge is to foreign journalists or media outlets reporting from the within the country. These are better placed to understand the complexities of Rwanda’s history that just cannot allow free reign on certain lines of reporting, such as the Genocide Ideology.
Western countries have similar laws in place, when dealing with terrorism or other issues that concern their security, the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC), respects these, so why do the reverse in Rwanda?
The ARJ march must therefore be taken as a resolve by the journalists a few days before we celebrate liberation day.
The face of the media in Rwanda will never be the same again.