On February 21, Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura) ordered Amazing Grace Christian radio to pay a fine of Rwf2 million($2,320) and suspended their operations for one month over failure to “comply with Rwandan National culture, norms and values.”
While the media reported that Rura was acting on the recommendations of the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) — the body that is charged with media self-regulation — Rura neither mentioned RMC in its statement of suspension nor adopted its recommended penalty.
RMC had sat and deliberated on the Amazing Grace radio case of denigrating women and on February 12 decided to suspend it for a period of three months for violating professional ethics.
Subsequently, RMC wrote to Rura requesting it to effect the suspension. The suspension was in relation to a sermon delivered on January 29, in which pastor Nicolas Niyibikora informed listeners that women are the “source of all evil.”
The sermon horrified many with Pro-Femmes Twese Hamwe — an umbrella of Rwandan civil society organisations aiming at advancement of women status, peace building and sustainable development — petitioning RMC to bring the radio to book.
That Rura didn’t cite RMC nor abide by its ruling is not only surprising but also undermines public trust and confidence in the media self-regulatory body.
For with this precedent, individuals and organisations as well as media outlets might start questioning why they should petition or appear before a body whose decisions or rulings are ignored.
So, why was RMC’s ruling ignored?
Some of the individuals in charge of media self-regulation say that legally, the ruling by RMC couldn’t stand in a court of law in case it was challenged and so Rura had to find a way of being on the right side of the law.
Yet, of course, despite having power to suspend, it’s unclear whether Rura has a rulebook defining what constitutes “Rwandan national culture, norms and values,” which media outlets should always comply with and which can stand scrutiny in court.
RMC should then have known that it was created to act as a peer-to-peer mechanism of ensuring compliance with journalistic ethics and professional conduct and dispensing restorative not retributive justice that’s legally binding.
In that sense, RMC should have either requested Rura to take on the case without specifying the exact penalty, or it should have ordered the radio to, for example apologise to women broadly and Rwandans, say daily, for a year without ordering suspension.
Finally, and most importantly, the problem with media regulation today is located in the ambiguous media law and seeming limited support for media self-regulation.
For example, while many claim that Rwanda is under “media self-regulation” where peers regulate themselves, legally, we could say that it’s under co-regulation, with statutory regulation operating side-by-side with self-regulation.
For instance, Article 4 of the 2013 media law states in paragraph one that, “The daily functioning of media and the conduct of journalists shall be regulated by the Media Self-Regulatory Body.”
In paragraph two it adds, “However, the national utilities statutory regulator shall also carry out the regulation of audio, audio-visual media and Internet.”
Clearly, while the “functioning of media and conduct of journalists” is placed under the self-regulatory body, “the regulation of audio, audio-visual media and Internet” is under Rura.
But, paragraph three of the same article adds that, “Organs referred to under Paragraphs One and 2 of this Article shall have a joint working agreement and shall determine their plan of action.”
And as someone who was deeply involved in setting up the media self-regulatory body, including defining its organisation, functions, and penalties for noncompliance, I know that it was supposed to closely work with Rura under an MoU signed in 2013.
With the political will and a supportive media policy to gradually move towards pure media self-regulation, it was hoped that RMC would regulate all media content while Rura regulated the technical part of it working in concert.
And as the MoU states, Rura was supposed, “To jointly work with RMC to handle audio, audio-visual, and Internet media matters related to content” and “To assist and provide technical support to the commission where applicable.”
That RURA ignored RMC in its ruling and the latter didn’t collaborate with the former before announcing the suspension of the aforementioned radio is a puzzle.
To unlock the puzzle, one needs to understand how powerful RMC could be if it were allowed to freely operate and the suspicion some still harbour for the media.
Christopher Kayumba, PhD. Senior Lecturer, School of Journalism and Communication, UR; Lead consultant, MGC Consult International Ltd. E-mail: [email protected]; twitter account: @Ckayumba Website:www.mgcconsult.com