Journalism: Rwanda’s reputable double-edged profession, why it grows faster

Not so long ago, in 2011 to be precise, Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame echoed in an interview with Aljazeera TV’s Riz Khan.

“…We want to empower our people to communicate, to have information and knowledge”, said President Kagame, by then alluding to real time information and social media outlets. As Rwanda recently joined the rest of the world to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day on May 3, President Kagame’s words while in an interview with Aljazeera’s Khan seemed much more engaging, this time even reaching the mainstream media.

Kagame himself, the cabinet of Ministers, Senators, Members of Parliament, Judiciary, security personnel and you can name all the government organs; no one of any mentioned above act as a threat to this commonly known as THE FOUTH ESTATE  (Media).

It is mostly amazing to hear from International media doing what one would call an abuse to power of information and misleading people through the business of words’ manipulation.

It looks like this is too biased and partisanship to Rwanda but if you are a reader, observer, and you are not a sophist, you may ask yourself many questions before concluding to whatever accusations you hear.

When the World Press Freedom Day was being celebrated on May 3 this year, Reporters without Borders (RWB) had released a customary, controversial report showing how different countries treat journalists the world over. In the report, Rwanda was ranked in the 161st position among 179 countries surveyed. In a couple of articles in the local online publications, it was clear that the situation is not that bad as RWB portrays it. Apparently, it’s rather the opposite! Local journalists (Rwandans) were, that day, jubilant; expressing their views on how the access to information act is going to put an end, among others, to “appointment requests from some office assistants for journalists to meet their bosses” – a very disturbing scenario for a journalist working not only in the public’s interest but also under a tight deadline and pressure from the editor.

They (journalists) were also saying how the self-regulation law will enable them, among others, to sort out their professional errors among themselves.

Self-regulation and access to information laws, pretty good stuff really, don’t you think so? We may not ramble on that.

Former US President Thomas Jefferson, the primary author of the American Declaration of Independence, once expressed his strong support to the function of journalism through a letter to one of his friends, in 1787: “…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government”, the letter read in part, “I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter”.

This may simply mean conceptually, that everyone needs information. It is necessary for good governance, for social development and political stability. This is mostly misinterpreted by some individuals as “the government is weaker than newsmen” while the perception may depend on a person, the truth remains that Thomas Jefferson intended to communicate the importance of the information and communication in any society.

In fact Rwanda is, after the heinous role media outlets such as the private (but government-supported) station RTLM (Radio-Télévision Libre des Mille Collines) and Kangura newspaper played in fuelling the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, moving forward and committed to supporting “the development of a media environment that is sensitive to the country’s past, responsive to the present and that keeps the whole society accountable as it works to deliver a better future for all Rwandans”.

That’s how Rwanda has been passing and amending media laws to provide for an independent, conducive media environment, most recently, making yet another milestone to pass the self-regulation law and the Access to Information Act.

According to an article posted on the official Rwandan government website on May 3, “There is now no requirement for journalists to hold particular academic qualifications, paving the way for a broader definition of who is a journalist and allowing freelancers to enjoy the same rights as employed journalists” (http://www.gov.rw/STATEMENT-BY-THE-MINISTER-OF-LOCAL-GOVERNMENT-HON-JAMES-MUSONI-ON-THE-WORLD-PRESS-FREEDOM-DAY-3-MAY-2013).

Journalism is both an art and a profession and as such being a journalist involves some level of talent, creativity and enthusiasm – that’s on one end of the spectrum. And then on the other end, journalism as a profession has to follow some rules and codes of ethics.

Just do some Google search on bylines from some of the world’s leading media corporations like The New York Times, BBC and Aljazeera TV. Chances are that you will find a great deal of names with no academic qualifications in journalism and that they’ve learnt their craft both through experience and on-job training over the years. Some of them have actually earned their first degrees in a wide range of study pathways like philosophy, economics and law.

It is not my intention, however, to nullify the current Rwandan government’s efforts when it decided, back in 1996, to open up the first School of Journalism and Communications at the National University of Rwanda.

The politics of propaganda and rumors had ignited the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and there was need, and there is still, for training a new generation of people who can understand journalism and communications both in a scholarly and practical viewpoint. But with regard to the new media laws, these university-trained journalists should not be the only ones to practice journalism. And that’s very much of a wise decision because the nature of this profession, history has proven, makes it possible to learn it even through experience and on-job training.

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