On Friday March 2, Rwanda marked the World Press Freedom day under the local theme “Free and professional Media, a Driver for Good Governance and Development”, to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and evaluating the progress made towards press freedom as well as to defend the media from unwarranted attacks on their independence.
The celebrations took place at Lemigo Hotel in Kigali attracting media practitioners from various media houses, both print and broadcast. The event was preceded by a 7.5 km run for journalists to call the public’s attention on the World Press Freedom Day. The run was flagged off by the UN Resident Coordinator Lamin M. Manneh and the CEO of the Rwanda Governance Board Prof. Anastase Shyaka.
At the event, a short film was screened documenting 20-years of media development in Rwanda since the genocide in 1994.
At the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, the Minister of Local Government, James Musoni, launched the Rwanda Media Barometer.
The Barometer examines the state of media development in Rwanda, every three years. It is a collection of perceptions and experience of various media stakeholders and users including ordinary people, media practitioners and managers, civil society organizations, development partners, media experts, and various government officials.
The barometer has six main indictors which were rated as follows. Indictor number one is on a system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression and media freedom which scored 72%; second, is on plurality and diversity of the media, level economic playing field and transparency of ownership which was rated at 50%; third, is Media as a platform for democratic discourse rated at 67%; fourth, Media development, professional capacity building and supporting institutions that underpin media freedom which scored at 51% ; fifth, Infrastructural capacity sufficient to support independent and pluralist media rated at 68% and the final one is on media availability and access to information for citizens which scored 55%. Overall the RMB scored the state of media development in Rwanda at 61%.
Some of the key recommendations included the need for higher learning institutions to revisit their training curricula to respond to the information needs of the public; the imperative to conduct extensive study on media training to identify, gaps, weaknesses and propose practical solutions; the prerequisite for the Government to look at mechanisms to waive taxes especially for newcomers in the media sector to increase investments in the sector; the necessity to initiative media literacy programs to help citizens and authorities to understand their rights and responsibilities with respect to accessing information and finally the crucial need to improve the level of interaction between the media and the public.
Prof. Anastase Shyaka, CEO of the Rwanda Governance Board, commented on the media sector reform taking place in the country. He said: “the Rwanda Media Barometer indicates that the development of the sector has tremendously impacted other sectors. As we mark this day, it is important to note that there are quite many reforms that have been made in making the media sector grow; and actually this demonstrates government commitment in ensuring that the media plays its expected role.”
Prime examples of the tangible progress being made are the recent Access to information Law (2013), the establishment of the Rwanda Media Commission for Media Self-regulation as well as turning the national TV into a public broadcaster.
The chairperson of the media self-regulation body (Rwanda Media Commission – RMC)), Fred Muvunyi called on media practitioners to respect the rules of journalism if they are to professionally operate. Muvunyi added that given RMC efforts in monitoring media content there was no single media related case or journalist taken to prosecution last year. RMC has so far received 32 complaints, 27 of which have been amicably solved without resorting to litigation.
The UN Resident Coordinator Lamin Manneh commended the reforms that have been made in the media sector saying it demonstrates the beginning of “ownership of the media by practitioners themselves”.
Manneh said with the demonstrated cooperation and what has so far achieved indicates that a lot more can be attained in taking media development and professionalism to a higher level.
“Today we mark the 21st anniversary of World Press Freedom Day; assess the state of press freedom throughout the World; defend the media from unwanted attacks on its independence and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty,” he appealed.
The One UN in Rwanda, through the UNDP has been closely involved in supporting the media reforms process. This has been through a number of programmes, such as the Inclusive Participation in Governance and currently, the Deepening Democracy and Accountable Governance programme - a five year partnership between the One UN and the Government of Rwanda - that covers areas such as evidence-based governance, enhancing the oversight role of parliament, improving the capacity of the National Electoral Commission as well as media reforms and development.