SPEECH OF THE RMC CHAIRMAN, ON THE WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY CELEBRATIONS, MAY 3, 2015 AT THE SERENA KIGALI HOTEL.
The Minister of Local Government,
The CEO of RGB,
The One UN Resident Co-ordinator,
Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
Senior government officials,
Heads of Media Associations,
Dear fellow journalists,
Ladies and gentlemen,
Allow me on behalf of the Rwanda Media Commission, and on behalf of all journalists in this country, who in their daily work promote the values of media freedom, to congratulate you upon celebrating the World Press Freedom Day. Drawing from this year’s theme: Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the Digital Age”, let me make a few observations. As media practitioners, the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day gives us great pleasure because it is a recognition of the importance of our work in achieving peaceful, developmental and democratic societies. I have, on many occasions, heard colleagues refer to journalism as a thankless job, mostly in regard to the many risks involved with it compared to the pay that comes with it! But on this occasion, I regard as a vote of thanks, the presence of all of us from various walks of life to celebrate the values of press freedom.
As the journalists present here will testify, doing journalism is not simply reporting stories. It is a search for truth that we must tell in those stories, and as such, it more often than not brings us into conflict with those that would want to suppress the truth. In other words, it is true that journalism can be a risky undertaking. This is well captured in this year’s theme, which highlights the need for media safety.
As UNESCO’s concept note on the theme explains, “the work of journalists often puts them at specific risk of harassment, intimidation and violence”. The fact that a few minutes ago, we paid tribute to journalists who lost their lives during the genocide against the Tutsi, illustrates this point.
But despite these risks and the well documented fact that journalists are some of the least paid professionals, our presence here to celebrate this day is a sign of our commitment to ensure that journalism thrives!
We are encouraged by the message of the UN Secretary General on this day, when he says that “we need to understand that information must not only be universal, but also free to challenge the status quo, and to provide a window of hope for those whose voices are silenced by the censorship of corruption, violence, intimidation, and retaliation”.
In Rwanda, we have made important steps in negotiating an environment in which journalists are less at risk in doing their work. The media reforms that ushered in self-regulation have created a positive environment to deal with both the complaints against journalists and the risks to their work.
At RMC, for example, we have handled and amicably resolved complaints brought against journalists, as well as complaints that journalists have filed especially in relation to intimidation and the violence they encounter during the course of their duty.
I would therefore like to appreciate the spirit in which the media reforms were implemented.
We have created a good working relationship with government agencies such as the CID and the office of the national prosecutor, and I am very happy to report that as I speak now, there is no journalist in prison because of their journalistic work. This was not the case a few years ago. But this does not mean that we have reached the apex of press freedom. Achieving press freedom, in my opinion, is always work in progress.
As I said earlier, since journalism is a search for truth, challenges will always emerge to contest its values. In Rwanda, we still have challenges as well.
The media reforms whose fruits I have just cited set up various institutions with their respective mandates in ensuring media freedom, professionalism, and access to information.
Our main challenge now, as we consolidate the gains we have made in media freedom, is to respect and support these institutions to do their work. Any policies or actions that undermine what we have already achieved will only serve to reverse the existing positive environment I have talked about.
Last but not least, I would like to commend all those who have participated in the Development Journalism Awards by submitting their entries. For those who will receive prizes, congratulations in advance. For those who will miss out this time, congratulations as well, because in our duty of promoting media freedom, professionalism and responsibility, we are all winners whether we receive prizes or not.
I therefore wish everybody a very enjoyable evening.