President Paul Kagame offered some critical words for regional journalists at a debate on the role of government in promoting journalism, yesterday, challenging the media; to do justice by having balanced well investigated stories.
The President told journalists gathered in Kigali that the failure of government should not explain the failure of the media or vice versa.
I fully agree that failures on both sides occur, the Head of State said, but my argument is that we can truly work together, to correct these failures, while at the same time, maintaining independence.
President Kagame, who chaired the workshop, did so under the invite from the East Africa Community Secretariat after journalists' asked for a session with him, following his address to the Fifth East African Community (EAC) Media Summit in Kigali on Thursday in which he called for principled government-media alliance.
"Failures on the side of government are many and, in fact, some of these things governments complain about and even attribute to the media are actually self-inflicted through miscommunication. I agree that there has to be proper communication and interaction between the two," he stated.
Andrew Mwenda, the Managing Editor of The Independent, a regional journal said African media should stop skewing towards what western media says, but fight against prejudices.
"For journalists to fully understand and appreciate government policy, there needs to be active policy to communicate to journalists," he said.
"The only way Africa can tell its story is if journalists are proactive in telling the story, knowing and reporting about the conflicts that affect Africa rather than waiting for CNN or BBC to report it," Mwenda said.
Robert Kabushenga, the CEO of New Vision, urged mindset change from both the government and media practitioners.
"If the economy is important, if social welfare and infrastructure are important, why don't we see government fostering a strong media pillar like they do these others? Let us build a partnership and make the media in the west irrelevant to the issues of Africa,"
Patrick Nduwimana, a journalist from Burundi said governments in the region should not view media as opponents by recognizing only those who report positive stories, as is often the case.
"Journalists who report about graft or abuse by authorities become bad boys whereas those who report government policies are elevated. The jailing of journalists is a common thing in our Great Lakes region.
Although I agree that journalists are not above the law, it is not right to condemn journalists without a fair trial," Nduwimana said.
The President concurred with him, although he said he was more concerned with not interfering with the justice system.
Before I get worried about the fact that someone is going to be sentenced and hanged, the President said, I worry about the process that brought us to this point.
"If a journalist breaks the law, he should be tried fairly as the law provides and that is the responsibility of the government. On the other hand, also journalists need to do justice by having balanced stories that are well investigated,"
He contrasted the kind of reporting of the western media on the conflict in Eastern DRC with what he cast as the lack of dedication of the regional media to getting the story right.
"I don't know if there is one journalist in the region who has taken time to go to eastern DRC and spend a few weeks investigating what is going on. Those who have gone there have come out silent. They have gone there and not reported what they saw but what others told them they saw," Kagame said, pointing out that he has not seen much talked about DRC, or its leadership, institutions.
"It is just Rwanda being talked about. This is how international media wants to craft international perception of the events. Those who wanted to create a narrative about Rwanda and DRC are the ones shaping the story about what they want, even after we exposed some of them as genocide apologists,"
Francis Babu, the Chairman of Uganda Association of Broadcasters accused international media of writing stories about African "superficially and cosmetically."
"For example, when an African country like Nigeria has oil, it is called a curse, but when USA has oil, it is a resource and a blessing.
This is the stereotype we must fight against and until we become more serious, we won't be able to overcome it," Babu warned.
"I applaud President Kagame for being interactive, which is rare amongst African leaders. I wish all presidents could do this because dialogue between government people and journalists is important."
Journalists and media house owners echoed their request to have Kagame as an ambassador for journalists in the region in recognition for his openness as a leader, a role which he accepted.
The session was organized jointly by the East African Community (EAC) and the East African Business Council, and attracted the presence of the Secretary General of EAC, Richard Sezibera and Rwanda's Minister for EAC, Monique Mukaruliza.
The session marked the close of the two-day Fifth East African Community (EAC) Media Summit that was hosted in Kigali.