30 January 2007

Rwanda: MPs Consult TNT Over Draft Press Law

Kigali — A six-man delegation of the Members of the Chamber of Deputies yesterday visited The New Times Publications (TNT) SARL offices as part of the MPs' ongoing consultations with media organisations on the press draft law.

The lawmakers also sought views about the new bill establishing the High Council of the Press (HCP). Led by Donatila Mukabalisa (PL), the lawmakers met with the newspaper Managing Director and Editor-In-Chief David Kabuye (pictured), Editors and Sub-Editors and other company administrators, in the TNT boardroom.

They are all members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Political Affairs, for which Mukabalisa is vice president.

The media house representatives gave various suggestions about the media bill, ranging from the relevance of some articles in the 103-article draft law to structural proposals.

In a wide-ranging list of proposals read out by the TNT Development Editor, David Gusongoyire, the newspaper raised concern over the existence of some articles such as those related to sedition and those that are vague and obscure.

The journalists also contended that the bill makes reference to other laws without giving details of the related clauses in other laws.

The newspaper staff contested Article 78 of the draft law which restricts journalists from accessing certain information from all the state organs under the pretext that such information could jeopardise national security and integrity.

However, realising that the list of proposals was becoming long, the MPs suggested that TNT sends them a written document containing all the proposals, which the legislators would consider in their subsequent committee deliberations.

"Given that your suggestions seem to be many, we are of the view that you put them in writing and send them (to us) along with your representative who would give us more details and follow our deliberations in the committee," said Mukabalisa.

The meeting also discussed the role of HCP, with several TNT staff blaming the Council for playing a "watchdog" over the media and ignoring the press advocacy role it is also charged with.

Kabuye, who is also a member of HCP, said the Council was currently trying to streamline media operations, after realisation that the media in the country was still developing.

"As the media becomes more professional, the Council will also increasingly advocate for it. But as of now, several of our journalists are still unprofessional hence the perception that the High Council of the Press is more of a watchdog than an advocacy organisation," Kabuye said. The Council constitutes of representatives from the government, civil society and private media and public media.

Meanwhile, in a related development the TNT officials took on the MPs over continued failure of the House to open up to the media.

The scribes cited cases where some journalists, including those from TNT, had been barred from accessing standing committee debates contrary to the provisions of the Parliamentary Rules and Procedures.

In response, the MPs said that the law also gives rights to Parliamentary Standing Committees to hold certain sessions in camera.

"Whereas it is true that journalists have the right to access information, we should also consider the context in which we operate. We know the role the media played to create the situation which our country experienced and similarly, we know how politicians contributed to these problems," said MP Alfred Rwasa Kayiranga (RPF).

MP Désiré Joseph Nyandwi (RPF), who is a former local government minister, urged journalists to acquire the official press cards given by HCP, saying the cards would help the media practitioners access areas of information.

Many journalists, both from public and private media organisations, have continuously shunned the card, claiming it is bulky.

Kabuye called for the strengthening of the Ministry of Information both financially and in terms of personnel, to be able to develop the media industry in the country.

Other MPs on the visiting team were Berthe Mukamusoni (RPF), Pélagie Mukantaganzwa (Byumba women), and Colonel (rtd) Anselme Nshizirungu (RPF).

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