While much is expected from the mainstream media, little has been invested in the same space that is expected to educate and inform masses, let alone build a strong sector that would help shape the future of the country, media practitioners say.
As local journalists marked the 10th Africa Information Day, media activists argued that without adequate human and financial resources, the media won't be able to play a role in influencing national and regional transformation. The event, which was celebrated yesterday coincided with the annual Development Journalism Awards 2018.
Gonza Muganwa, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Journalists Association, told The New Times that despite major gains made by the local media over the years - especially on policy and content - there are still pressing issues that need to be addressed to sustain growth.
"The profession and practice of journalism has improved greatly over the last five years. The legal framework is good and many outlets provide quality stories," Muganwa said.
"The biggest challenge facing the media of Rwanda at the moment is that of financing since most media houses are making profits. We believe that given the public utility role of media, the Government should take deliberate steps to support or ease the conditions under which media businesses operate".
For example, Muganwa says, there should be a certain percentage of government spending that goes to communication through local media.
He also noted that broadcasters now have a big challenge of exorbitant hosting and frequency charges, and urged regulators to revise the fees.
"Billing electricity for broadcast masts in the same way as telecom masts is unfair because the markets are different," Muganwa added.
Berna Namata, the Country Manager of Nation Holdings Rwanda, proprietors of several local and regional media outlets, said that even though the Government doesn't have to directly fund media companies, increased government expenditure could go a long way in helping private media to grow.
"The media, like the rest of the private sector, stands to benefit indirectly from increased government expenditure because it creates more opportunities in the economy," Namata said.
She also observed that in the era of digital disruption, media outlets have to rethink their business models to remain afloat. "The current digital disruption means we have to rethink our business models to remain relevant".
Frank Habineza, a Member of Parliament, acknowledged that journalism in Rwanda is struggling financially which is why he is proposing the creation of an institution to facilitate journalists to access soft loans to keep them in business.
"The status of journalism in Rwanda is good because we have no journalists in prison or none has been killed. However, media institutions are suffering from lack of financial resources which render them unable to pay their staff and other services, thus affecting professional ethics," Habineza noted.
"A media development fund would help journalists and media houses get soft loans at low interest rates as well as grants to make ends meet," he added.
Habineza also suggests proportional sharing of public tenders between public and private media houses.
"At least the private media should have a 50 per cent chance of winning those tenders," Habineza told The New Times.
According to the 2018 Rwandan Media Barometer, which was released yesterday by Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), equity in advertising policy is one of the "least performing" sub-indicator over the years. It rose marginally from 45.7 per cent in 2016 to 45.9 per cent in 2018.
For instance, the barometer says that Rwanda Broadcasting Agency radio and TV, which covers 100 per cent of the country's territory, is more favourable to the advertisers.
In print media, it states, most outlets are not regular, have low reach and small readership which is largely concentrated in Kigali city.
The barometer also says that the introduction of the e-procurement and e-recruitment system in the public sector substantially affected incomes that media outlets used to earn from advertising.
The 2016 Rwanda Media Barometer, indicated that, there were 35 radio stations, twelve television stations, about 50 print media outlets ― including two daily newspapers; over 80 web-based media outlets.
However, only one TV station has since wrapped up its commercial operations, while some radio stations have opted to go online or laid off a significant number of their staff, citing high expenses to sustain newsroom operations.
Also, several print and online media outlets have been closed or some go for weeks and months without publishing, the report says.
Arthur Asiimwe, Director General of Rwanda Broadcasting Agency, argued that there's a new form of scramble for Africa, which is why African leadership should seriously ponder why foreign media companies are ambitiously investing in this strategic area".
"Until Africa understands the need of investing in the media, we shall continue playing in the second league. Media needs a lot of investment to be able to produce content that's worth consuming and one that will play a role in transforming our continent," Asiimwe said.
For media consumers like Olivier Mushimire, the future of traditional media is "critical" due to digital disruption.
"The future of traditional media is critical and it will depend on how critical the content proposed is (analytical or investigative nature). It requires qualified journalists and alternative funding other than ads" Mushimire said.
He said that government does not necessary have to subsidise the media.
"Maybe it should exonerate taxes on media equipment and products like it's done for pharmaceutical products and pharmacies. At the end of the day we need a critical media as much as medical services to have a healthy population".
Judith Uwizeye, Minister in the Office of the President, commended the recommendation of the media barometer to put in place saving and credit schemes to support media development. She also noted that the Government is willing to support such schemes.