29 December 2017

Rwanda: Move to Decriminalise Defamation a Step in the Right Direction


Members of Parliament are finally taking steps to decriminalise libel and slander under the country's laws.

Media practitioners have always argued that decriminalising defamation was not promoting impunity but strengthening freedom of expression and protecting media freedoms.

Indeed, the setting up of the media self-regulatory body, the Rwanda Media Commission, proved to be the ideal mechanism through which such offences can adequately be handled.

The Rwandan media may not be out of the woods yet but the sector has come of age. Thankfully, the country seems to be taking notice - and has in recent years been on a progressive trajectory as far as the media industry is concerned.

Already, Rwanda is one of less than a dozen African countries that have an Access to Information Law.

Decriminalising defamation has probably been the single most important barrier to media freedom in the country. Some had wrongly perceived it as giving the media the green light to defame at will.

We now urge all the MPs to resolutely back the move to decriminalise defamation when the bill is up for the final vote on the floor of parliament.

Nonetheless, this gesture of goodwill from the policymakers challenges the media practitioners in the country to continue to embrace professionalism and steer clear of any malicious tendencies in their work.

That defamation may soon cease to be a criminal offence in the country and would therefore not land a journalist - or anybody for that matter - in jail is by no means a licence to indulge in slander or libel. There is no need to incur any fines just because one failed to observe the basic principles of decency, fair play and professional conduct.

Professionalism and integrity should always be the practitioners' guiding light.


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