3 December 2012

Rwanda to Empower Cash Strapped Media

It's an interesting contrast for the two countries, Rwanda and the UK and how they are dealing with their 'fourth estates.'

In Rwanda, the media industry is still young, weak and too poor to fend for themselves so the Government is currently taking the lead in developing and nurturing it into a formidable sector able to contribute to national development.

Meanwhile in the UK, a tougher form of self-regulation backed by legislation is being proposed to uphold press standards as recommended by the Leveson report, which is the result of a national inquiry into the conduct of the media in the wake of alarming practices that included hacking into people's email and phone addresses to obtain information.

Hitherto an international standard for media practice, the English media are now threatened with a new strict media regulation to tame wild media houses that abused the massive freedoms and self-regulation liberties that the industry enjoyed.

In Rwanda, the legal and political apparatus are putting in place the correct framework to enable the media in Rwanda to self-regulate. In a cabinet resolution approved by the Government in March last year, the Rwandan media would form a professional body that would be mandated to formulate the rules of the game to regulate, themselves, previously the responsibility of the Media High Council (MHC).

That move means a lot to the media, including the fact that it's a step closer to editorial independence and governance.

In the UK, the media had been self regulating until it emerged they were breaking the rules by violating people's privacy and paying bribes to government officials to obtain information, allegations that threw the industry into chaos and led to the closure of The News of the World, a publication more than a century old.

It's a very important situation full of lessons for Rwanda in the wake of efforts to take the media here to the next level.

Basket fund

Last week, the forth National media dialogue closed with an interesting announcement: the Media High Council is on the verge of launching a basket fund for the media to help local private media to improve capacity in areas of management, personnel and general professional practice.

According to Emmanuel Mugisha, the MHC's executive secretary, the basket fund for media support shall be independent from any influences in its funding priorities, and will answer the challenges and needs for capacity building and sustainability in Rwanda's media sector.

"Media should be a business and run on business principles if any sustainability is to be registered."

More than anything else, funding remains a key limitation for the advancement and success of most media houses, not only Rwanda but around the world. The implications of the media being a dynamic sector has never been more clear than today when copy sales of print media continue to dwindle with the rise of internet and social media communication.

During this year's media dialogue, attended by over 250 participants from Africa, it was pointed out that most media managers lack the basic skills to run a business or finances, a leading cause of failure for many media houses. "Media should be a business and run on business principles if any sustainability is to be registered," remarked Sadler Kamudyariwa, an investment manager of Southern Africa media development fund.

In Rwanda, many media houses are run based on old-fashioned models based on sales and public consumption, a factor which has not benefited many especially those in the print section of the media.


During the dialogue, it was noted that in an environment where the reading culture is very low, those in the newspaper industry had better put in efforts to nurture that culture among the new generation through specially designed products. "Media is dynamic and media managers need to see how to best move with the times; innovation is the key to surviving," advised Linus Wamanya, an innovations manager of Vision Group LTD which owns Uganda's leading daily, The New Vision.

If the media managers finally acquire business and financial management skills, will it be well and good for the industry? That is not a given, because the dialogue also heard that the journalist is very important in completing the ideal objective of a modern media. Journalists should be motivated and proud to do their job to end a scenario where many have turned into PR tools for corporate firms.

The MHC has in the past organized special training for journalists, but there are new efforts aimed at directly rewarding enduring and exemplary journalists.

On top of the traditional awards organized by MHC, this year the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) unveiled its own efforts in the form of Development Journalists' awards where cash prizes were handed out to winners.

There were eight winners from government-owned media houses and four from private one - Eric Didier Karinganire of The Rwanda Focus scooped the business award for print journalism.

According to RGB CEO Prof. Anastase Shyaka, it's important to support media development given its key role in development.

With media houses and their journalists happy, the media in Rwanda should have something to smile about but should be cautious to use their powers responsibly, contrary to some of their British colleagues, or the liberty might be questioned.

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