27 December 2013

Rwanda: How Reforms Impacted On Media in 2013

Among the landmark developments in the media landscape in the country in 2013 was enacting of a new Media Law. Rwandan journalists are currently whipped through a media self-regulatory body, the Rwanda Media Commission, and not government bodies.

Further galvanising the year 2013 in the annals of the media was the enacting, in March, of the Access to Information Law. All public institutions as well as private entities bound by the Access to Information Law, are mandated to furnish journalists with information in their possession within a maximum of two days upon request.

Perhaps the most important and unique step that has been fully achieved of all the media reforms initiated in the country in the year 2013, is media self-regulation.

Rarely these recent days are cases where practicing journalists are summoned by a government institution, the Media High Council, to answer a few questions regarding articles published.

Thanks to the new Media Law, enacted in 2013, Rwandan journalists are currently whipped through a media self-regulatory body, the Rwanda Media Com mission, and not government bodies.

It is a significant policy shift.

It is increasingly seen as effective as local journalists have now voted for people in charge of leading the body and resolving particular issues of editorial concern, and these, are peers from within their ranks.

"There has been a clear impact for self-regulation. It has helped everyone and I would say that even the government officials feel relieved," said Gonzaga Muganwa, a Kigali-based freelance journalist who also works as the executive secretary of the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ).

The media self-regulation body was instituted in the media law after many years of journalists' lobbying to convince government that they were indeed capable of correcting each others' mistakes and ensuring fair reporting.

Putting the law to action:

A case in point that led to the conviction that journalists in the country can actually regulate themselves is the way practitioners handled the defamation case against Ishema, a vernacular newspaper.

Through the Forum for Independent Newspapers, the scribes suspended the paper's managing director from their association for six months and he was made to apologise over what was seen as a "defamatory story."

The newspaper's editor was also forced to resign, apparently as a result of pressure from other journalists.

Officials at the Rwanda Governance Board have noted that through a self-regulatory framework, Rwandan journalists gain the public confidence by following their code of ethics and striving to be more credible by publishing accurate and well- researched stories.

Other reforms:

Apart from the new media law that ended the perceived government interference in the work of journalists, the country's media landscape in 2013 also gained more in terms of freedom, with two laws that are likely to push the envelope further if well implemented.

Rwanda became the 11th country in Africa to have an Access to Information Law in March and government has so far approved five presidential and ministerial orders that will complement the law.

With the law, all public institutions as well as private entities bound by the Access to Information Law (AIL) will have a maximum of two days to provide information being sought by a journalist and three days in case of an ordinary citizen (from the date of submission of request).

Local journalists and media experts see the legislation as a good base to start a conversation about nurturing the culture of openness and a society in which the media will be prosperous.

"Some of the ministerial orders are very progressive, especially on the time limit for releasing information. It's very good for us that we have this time limit," Muganwa says.

The head of the Rwanda Media Commission, Fred Muvunyi, agrees with Muganwa on the importance of the newly approved orders to implement the AIL.

"We have a society where people are very reserved and a lot of information kept secret. I hope this will change," he said.

Both journalists told The New Times that the regulatory framework will itself not be enough, unless journalists push the public to abide by the AIL.

Orinfor changes face:

Also, in 2013, the State-run Orinfor officially became a public broadcaster. This means that Orinfor, now Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, will have the freedom to choose the content that appeals to the public as opposed to previously when government had the upper hand.

Article 5 of the law governing RBA says that its responsibilities will include being a broadcaster providing the public with impartial and accurate national and international news as well as recreational programmes.

RBA will, according to the law, have its own budget, hire workers without government influence and run broadcast content that is in public's rather than government's interests.

Copyright © 2013 The New Times. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.