Fred Muvunyi, who resigned on Tuesday evening as chairman of the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), on Thursday spoke out on the circumstances under which he quit the media self-regulation body.
The journalist, who was thought to be in Europe, said he did not insult the Minister for Local Government Francis Kaboneka or the CEO of Rwanda Governance Board Prof Anastase Shyaka as alleged by an official of the ministry.
Following the resignation and the subsequent events, including reports that RMC board was forced to apologise to the minister over the State of the Media Report, the head of communication at Minaloc, Ladislas Ngendahimana, said Mr Muvunyi had disrespected the two high-ranking officials. He dismissed reports that Mr Muvunyi was pressured to resign and tweet a message in which he apologised for “using inappropriate words.”
“Some people alleged government pressure for Muvunyi to resign,” Ngendahimana said. “That allegation is totally wrong; self-regulation is the government’s will and policy.
“Muvunyi appealed to Minaloc, asking the ministry to disband RGB and change its mandate. He said RGB leaders are nothing before him. Muvunyi insulted the Minister for Local Government, telling him that unless RGB was disbanded the ministry is useless.”
But Mr Muvunyi was quick to dismiss the claim. Showing several messages shared between government officials and members of the Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) media team, he noted that there was a plot to remove him from office. In the messages, the officials seem to discuss a strategy to remove him from office, noting that they need someone they can control who thinks along the same lines as they.
“We should read the signal of times; the RMC [is] being manipulated by foreign forces to serve their purpose,” one of the text messages released by Muvunyi reads, while another adds that “Muvunyi caught us off-guard” in an apparent reference to his August 2013 election as RMC boss.
Rwanda Today is reliably informed that the standoff was ticked off by the report, which Minaloc and RGB attempted to block using board members but Mr Muvunyi resisted the move.
A local daily quoted one of the commissioners, Marie Immaculee Ingabire, as indicating that the report was Mr Muvunyi’s own initiative and was not agreed upon by the entire board and that it was not on the 2014/15 action plan for RMC.
A document seen by Rwanda Today reveals that the controversial report was on the action plan but had lacked funding, with RGB providing Rwf4 million to do the survey.
However, the RMC Secretariat has dismissed the claim, noting that Ms Ingabire was out of touch with the office, which handles the day-to-day activities of the media body.
RMC sourced funds from UNDP to conduct the study. The executive secretary, Julius Ndayisaba, confirmed to Rwanda Today that the report was on the action plan but did not provide further details.
Ms Ingabire’s remarks have riled journalists, who have called for the removal of board members who are not journalists in the forthcoming elections to pick a new chair.
“It is unfortunate that people who are not journalists or working in the media are the ones at the forefront of removing someone elected by journalists,” noted Didas Niyifasha, a senior journalist. “This is ironic.
“It is time journalist picked people with whom they share interests to run our affairs.”
Ms Ingabire is the chairperson of Transparency International - Rwanda.
Mr Muvunyi quit RMC with one and a half years remaining on his mandate. He was elected in 2013 after the government passed a new law regulating the media that gave journalists an opportunity to regulate themselves.
Known to be independent-minded, Mr Muvunyi did not give reasons for his resignation in his short email seen by Rwanda Today but sources indicate that the official had been under pressure from various government officials following a report commissioned by RMC on the state of the media in Rwanda.
“I have a pleasure (sic) to inform you of my decision to step down as the chairman of Rwanda Media Commission,” he wrote, adding that during his shortlived tenure he encountered a lot of experiences and many hurdles. “I have seen RMC growing and building up the trust among media stakeholders.”
The resignation set the media fraternity aback.
“It is a dark day for the media fraternity in Rwanda. Muvunyi stood for the freedom of the press,” said Robert Mugabe, a press freedom activist and editor of Great Lakes Voice. “He stood for the independence of RMC, for which he was victimised many times because of his firm stand on issues.”
Last year, Mr Muvunyi challenged Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority’s (Rura) decision to suspend the BBC’s Kinyarwanda programming, saying it did not have the mandate.