The New Times (Kigali)

12 November 2012

Rwanda?s Media - Haunted By Its Past

opinion

One often one hears over the radio or reads an article by Human Rights, Amnesty International et al officials about civil rights violations, clamping down on the media and restriction of freedom of expression in Rwanda.

However, none of these officials ever mentions that freedom of expression should not be excessive to the extent that it infringes the rights of others or breaks the law.

None of them ever reminds their readers or listeners that expression should respect the rights of others and protect the security of a nation.

Expression should propagate a good culture in the populace. These are fundamentals in the countries these officials come or operate from. Their constitutions clearly state that anyone who misuses their right to express freely is punished.

They respect these fundamentals so much so that when one of their citizens exceeds their freedoms, it becomes news and they are surely punished. For Rwanda and other developing countries, it's the reverse, punishment for the excess becomes news and the infringer or law breaker becomes victim.

The major reason these media "experts" local and international fail to hit the nail on the head is that they ignore or are unaware of the historical and intrinsic perspective of the media in Rwanda.

Over the years, Rwandan and international actors in the Rwandan media industry have had different and diverse experiences.

For development, these experiences should be shared in a manner which is not patronizing, assuming or divisive but informative and educative. The diversity and difference should form a very good basis for media development. The "experts" should therefore use their objectively researched news and learn from others about theirs; from a summation of all that establish what to pass on to the recipients.

The major tasks of the media or information dissemination the world over are benchmarked on three fundamental pillars. The first is to inform on all local and international news.

The second is to educate on issues which affect lives and roles in nation building, providing clear, objective, beneficial and developmental information.

Lastly, the media has to provide the population with leisurely information. For Rwanda, given its history, the Rwandan media has additional tasks of sensitising the population on reconciliation and unity, rebuilding their nation, informing them of their rights, the need for their security and act as an interlocutor between the leaders and the led.

Between 1933 and 1955 the media in Rwanda was mainly run by the church in the form of leaflets which were spreading the gospel. Later, the churches set up newspapers such as Kinyamateka in 1933 and Hobe in 1955.

Anti colonial articles seeking for independence started appearing. Such were papers like Temps Nouveax D'Afrique in December 1954 which discussed Rwanda, Burundi and Belgian Congo.

The anti colonial wave pushed the Belgian colonialists to set up a state newspaper in 1959 called Imvaho and a state radio called Radio Rwanda in 1961.

During this period of political and independence phobia many newspapers came up. Newspapers such as Servir, l'echo du Seminaire, Ijwi rya Rubanda Rugufi, Soma, Rwanda Nziza, Ukuri guca mu ziko ntigushye, Le cooperteu-umunyamuryango in 1965 of TRAFIPRO,Urumuri Rwa Democracy of MDR PARMEHUTU in 1963, Rwanda Carrefour D'Afrique, a Government paper set up in 1963 and later replaced by La Releve in 1973 when Habyarimana took over power.

The media administration kept oscillating.

It was first in the Ministry of Local Government and Social Affairs then it went to the Ministry of Labour, then to Ministry of Posts and Communication, then to the Ministry of Information and Tourism and finally a fully fledged ministry of information was set up on 4th August 1973.

The Ministry however, did not last long because on 9th August the following year it was replaced by the National Information Office (ORINFOR) and placed in the President's Office.

During this period, that is between 1974 and 1985 the Habyarimana regime practiced what was called Democracy Responsible and all the media fraternity, Government and private were on the same page. From the beginning of the liberation war in 1990, Government media was specifically assigned to preach hate against the RPF. Imvaho, the Government Kinyarwanda weekly paper, La Releve, the Government French bi-monthly and Rwanda Television which was set up later in 1993 were all RPF hate preachers and instruments of war.

The private media was also political party affiliated, Isibo belonged to MDR-PARMEHUTU, Rwanda Rushya to The Liberal Party (PL), Kangukato UDPR, La Medaille Nyiramacibili to MRND, Le Soleil to PSD, Le Democrate Chritien to PDC, RTLM which was set up in 1993 and Kangura to Habyarimana's MRND. RPF had its Radio Muhabura, its papers the Kinyarwanda Inkotanyi and the English The Vanguard. The media was for a very long time sectarian, partisan and mismanaged.

In the next article, I'll talk about the media's role during the Genocide and why we have to be more cautious.

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