14 August 2009

Rwanda: President Kagame Signs Media Law

Kigali — President Paul Kagame, has finally given his assent to the Media Law, after years of deliberations and consultations, within Parliament and the broader media fraternity.

The new law signed this week is already in application and has been published in the National Gazette, according to the Ministry of Information (MINIFOR).

The law has been a point of debate, in both chambers of Parliament and within the media circles over different articles and clauses, often courting controversy, to a point that, President Kagame, was prompted to order for the law which had already been passed by Parliament to return for further cleaning following protests from media practitioners.

"The new Media Law is out. It has been signed and it is already in application. This is absolutely a landmark achievement for the media in Rwanda.

We have been talking about the principles and ethics of the media, the conduct, privacy intrusion and what happens to those who flout the rules," explained Ignatius Kabagambe, the Director General in MINIFOR.

"The previous law has not been clear on the above like the new law is. But this does not mean that the new law has come to make life difficult. But as you know there is need for order and terms of reference and this law provides the legal redress required."

President Kagame proposed amendments to four controversial articles in the media bill that had not gone down well with media practitioners prompting the bill to return to the lower chamber of parliament and the Senate.

The President's proposal came following increased criticism from media practitioners over some controversial clauses that the press said undermined the integrity of their profession.

The amendments in the new law include article 2, paragraph 7, which gives the green light to practicing scribes to continue the trade without necessarily having studied communication or journalism as it had been proposed in the earlier bill.

The article however sets a condition that the practicing journalist should possess at least a diploma from a recognized institution.

Article 13, paragraph 1, which required journalists to get prior official permission to publish any information was amended to allow them to collect and disseminate information freely and seek permission only when using copyright material.

The change means media practitioners will nurture and enhance investigative journalism in the country.

Also amended is Article 88 which stated that a journalist will be held legally responsible for any published story.

Now if a print journalist commits an error, the Editor in Chief will be held responsible while in the electronic media, the reporter or presenter shall be held accountable for the mistake and later on the line editors.

The law puts in place a five-year transitional period to allow practicing journalists who do not meet the requirements to upgrade their academic status.

Media Speaks out

"This law means a lot for those aspiring for a very professional media in Rwanda, not for every Tom, Dick and Harry.

The media where only those that are credible can join, though this can't happen today, but that's what we envisage in future," said Patrice Mulama, the Secretary General of the High Council of the Media (HCM).

"Laws must be there. This is a law which has been amended several times. It's not a bad law to begin with, it has even got better and I think it will go a long way in professionalizing the media.

Personally I think it has no problem because it underwent a proper cleaning process." said Shyaka Kanuma, the Editor in Chief of the weekly Rwanda Focus.

"When you look at the process, the amendments done, the debates in between, I would say it's a good piece of law for the media.

It has critical references ranging from freedom of press to access to information."

"Even though it is not clear on access to information, it has that article which punishes public officials who refuse to pass information to the media, its quite an unprecedented article which gives a lot of power to the media," said Gaspard Safari, the President of the Association of Rwandan Journalists.

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