As the world celebrated Press Freedom Day, journalists in Rwanda have said that while there has been remarkable improvement in terms of press freedom, there is need to raise more awareness about access to informal law in the public and private institutions as well as the community in general.
The day was celebrated on Monday, May 3, where the best journalists were rewarded in a virtual ceremony.
Emmanuel Habumuremyi, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Journalist Association (ARJ), said that the improvement in terms of press freedom is first based on government political will to promote journalism.
Journalists cover a news briefing by Democratic Green Party president Frank Habineza in 2018. Photo: Sam Ngendahimana.
"Through that political will, the government has also established laws that protect journalism. Among the laws, there is access to information law. All these are founded on the constitution where it says that press freedom should be guaranteed and protected by the government," he said.
In order to implement the laws, he noted, there are institutions that are in charge of ensuring implementation in collaboration with institutions that represent the media sector.
"The institutions include security organs, other public institutions including grassroots leaders. I say this because in journalism history after 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, there were often collaboration issues between journalists and these institutions. Today, the collaboration has improved to a high level despite some that still need to have more knowledge about the laws and how they should be respected," he said.
He argued that journalists express their different views through their stories in both public and independent media houses which is a mark of improved press freedom.
In addition, he said, the government has also facilitated the establishment of journalism schools which have equipped graduates with skills and boosted the press freedom platform.
According to Habumuremyi, there are, however, some few challenges related to access to information that are still affecting press freedom.
"The access to information law is there, but journalists say it has loopholes in the way it is implemented. For instance, if someone refuses to provide information, there is no provision to punish such cases," he said.
Some journalists say they request information, but sources delay to respond or totally refuse to provide information without any explained reasons. To this, we think there is a need for correcting that to ensure journalists easily access information, he explained.
Is financial constraint an issue?
Habumuremyi argued that journalism development or the financial capacity of media houses should not be linked to press freedom in Rwanda's context.
However, financial constraints can prevent journalists from investigating and producing many stories.
"There are still financial constraints in the media sector. I think the media sector develops as the private sector also develops. As the private sector grows, it will understand the media's role in business development and I hope the media sector will also grow," he said.
"I request the government in its political will to also consider the media sector and inject in subsidies if possible to raise the sector. We also need a fund for the media sector. The concept is there but there is no money in it. We should think about how the fund can get capital," he added.
What other journalists say
Daniel Sabiti, a journalist for KTPRESS who has been in the media sector for over 19 years, said that people were previously not associating themselves with media as such considering the history of media or bad reputation in 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.
But today, he argues: "In terms of media freedom, I have seen a bit of growth in terms of trust from the public and leaders because 19 years ago it was not easy to convince a citizen or a leader to provide information," he said.
However, he says the trust from leaders has not improved compared to grassroots citizens.
"The challenge today is that some individual leaders see journalists as enemies because of their own interests, few of them fear the media which is a challenge to access to information. In general the media is growing despite some challenges such as investment," he said.
Célestin Ntawirema, the spokesman of Rwanda Journalists for Sustainable Development (RJSD), reiterates access to information is a great achievement in terms of press freedom.
However, he says, very few people are aware of this law which is a challenge adding that the law has not established penalties if leaders refuse to provide information which is a challenge to press freedom.
"We are supporting young journalists to know the access to information law and ethics," he said.
Placide Ngirinshuti, a freelance journalist, said that penetration of online media has improved press freedom in the country through news websites, blogs and social media.
René Anthère Rwanyange, the Managing Director of Panorama Media house, echoes that established laws to raise the level of press freedom in Rwanda. But he added that there is a need for harmonization of access to information law with other laws, adding that the Media Development Fund also needs support to address financial constraints in the media sector.
Léonce Muvunyi, a reporter for Rwanda Today, a branch of The East African says: "So many things have been positively changed in course of the media freedom in Rwanda recently, as we have law that guarantees media freedom but we are still having some few setbacks in the course of accessing information, where in some instance we are denied information without any explanation, or delays in getting information."