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World Press Freedom Day: Promoting media freedom through self-regulation

 World Press Freedom Day: Promoting media freedom through WPFDself-regulation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Message from Rwanda Media Commission on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day 2015

In March 2013 the Rwanda Media Commission was born as part of the wide ranging media reforms in Rwanda. In terms of the broader significance to media freedom, this was a pivotal moment in the sense that it marked the exact moment of media shifting from statutory regulation to self-regulation. Although the Media Law provided for a Media Self-Regulatory Body, it was predicated on journalists themselves forming such a body, which they did, and named it the Rwanda Media Commission. As we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day 2015 therefore, we are also celebrating the institutionalization of the recognition that while media freedom must be exercised within the broader recognition of the rights of others, it is through self-regulation that the delicate balance between the right to free expression and the responsibility that comes with it can be achieved.


This year’s theme “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality and Media Safety in the Digital Age”, directly speaks to the mandate of RMC. As the media self-regulatory body, our mandate is three-fold:

  • To promote, nurture and protect ethical journalism practices through regulating the daily functioning of the media and the conduct of journalists;
  • To defend media freedom; and,
  • To speak on behalf of the media fraternity as a whole, especially in regard to protection of ethical practices and media freedom.

In the last two years, we have raised the profile of the media fraternity as a sector capable of, through peer-review mechanisms, handling issues related to the media sector.

For example, as of April 2015, we have handled a total of 70 cases, with 21 cases coming from journalists/media, 44 cases from the public, and 5 cases from government institutions and officials. Except for two cases under appeal, the rest of the cases have been amicably resolved and both complainants and respondents contented. Besides the cases, we have cultivated a fruitful relationship with key government institutions such as the Rwanda National Police-CID and the office of the public prosecutor, who have, on some occasions, referred cases of media nature to us. For us, this is a measure of the confidence and support for the principle of self-regulation. As Prof. Guy Berger, the UNESCO Director for Freedom of Expression and Media Development has argued, self-regulation is preferred for its capacity to enhance professional standards as opposed to statutory regulation, which, on the contrary, tends to give governments control over who says what and therefore restricts the free flow of ideas.

In spite of many achievements from different fronts, and as the theme for this year’s celebrations suggests, there are emerging challenges that threaten professional journalism. The capabilities provided by the digital age which include the ability to publish individually and from anywhere, the ability to instantly disseminate news, pose new challenges of ensuring that the core values of journalism such as accuracy, truth and verification are adhered to. Rwanda, with its prioritized investment and promotion of new technologies as a model of development, provides a good case study in dealing with these challenges. According to our records at RMC, about 90 news websites have emerged over the last few years. This means that quantitatively, online publishing supersedes the mainstream media sector of newspapers, radio and TV combined. But that may not be the case qualitatively. There are challenges that instant online publishing poses. Besides the less focus on verification and the pressure to be the first to publish, there is the illusion of invisibility or anonymity that online platforms provide. This illusion, and lack of proper verification processes, tends to let in forms of speech and expression, such as hate speech and personal attacks that do not conform to the principles of meaningful dialogue that the media is supposed to support. All these challenges put immense pressure on a regulatory body like RMC.

But as UNESCO reminds us, in these circumstances, self-regulation can provide the defense for the integrity of journalism. As the self-regulatory body, we are working out modalities of tackling the ethical dimension of online content. By doing this, we are looking straight into the future of journalism, that is, digital publishing, but without losing sight of the core, old fashioned values of journalism – truthful, accurate, qualitative and independent reporting. As we celebrate the World Press Freedom Day 2015, let us remind ourselves that the core purpose of journalism is to provide a constructive platform for the exchange of ideas as a basis for promoting an informed citizenry that is a prerequisite for democracy.

Other relevant statements by Different Institution on the 2015 World Press Freedom Day can be viewed at

The New Times: World Press Freedom Day 2015

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