13 August 2012

Rwanda: Yes, Sometimes the Media Too Has Fallen Short


Last week, President Paul Kagame took time off his busy schedule to have a candid discussion with journalists and media owners who had converged in Kigali for the fifth East Africa Community (EAC) media summit.

The debate was very interesting and provocative.

First, the President who is often lampooned as being unfriendly to the media agreed to this impromptu request for a debate with journalists on a wide range of issues--including press freedoms, access to information etc.

Kagame used recent developments in the region to prove that we in the media, have not lived up to the task of telling our regional story to world and left it to outsiders who have completely gotten it wrong.

So, the president raised the bitter truth about the lack of capacity--sometimes financial as well as professional among media organizations to deal with complex issues in the region.

Often, we in the media have demonstrated inability to observe and write authoritatively on issues that are out there for any critical journalist to see. Instead who are contented with unquestioning reporting on what people, especially those in official positions, have to say. Sometimes we have even quoted people who are not authorities in matters they talk about. For instance, simply because somebody is a junior minister of health, does not make them experts on disease prevention or control.

So, when the UN panel of experts came up with a report alleging that Rwanda is giving material support to mutinous soldiers of DR Congo, the western media took it for the gospel truth and reported it that way.

When the media in the region also tried to catch up with the story, it did not take it a single step ahead by taking advantage its proximity to put things in perspective and tell the real story. Indeed, not any of the local journalists who have written about this story have ever stepped in the DR Congo.

So, without observing and verifying, how can we in the media play our role of informing the wider public?

Media owners therefore need to build capacity of their businesses to do their job properly and remain relevant. As President Kagame said, some governments may not be interested in doing this because they prefer having an ill-informed and less inquisitive media for obvious reasons.

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