The decision by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura) to suspend the Kinyarwanda programming of the British Broadcasting Corporation contravened the country’s media laws.
According to the new media law, only the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), the media-self regulation body, could have made a decision on BBC had Rura submitted a complaint to it.
The media regulator would then inform Rura of the decision reached.
But The EastAfrican has learnt that prior to the decision to suspend BBC Kinyarwanda broadcasts, different government bodies and the independent media body differed over the decision.
Several government officials were pushing RMC to suspend BBC but commission chairman Fred Muvunyi was reluctant. While Mr Muvunyi condemned the documentary named “Rwanda: The Untold Story” that aired on BBC 2 for trivialising the genocide and flouting journalistic principles, he had reasoned that suspending BBC broadcasts would come with negative consequences.
“Our position is that the decision to suspend BBC was wrong because the law is clear. Rura is only mandated to deal with licensing, allocating frequencies and managing these scarce resources but it does not have powers to regulate the media. Article 2 of the Media Law, Clause 22, states that media self-regulation is carried out by an independent body elected by journalists to ensure that the principles of journalism are observed and to protect the interests of the general public. Article 3 gives such powers to RMC,” Mr Muvunyi said.
Article 4 of the Media Law recognises self-regulation and bestows new duties on journalists to ensure that they formulate professional standards, which are to be enforced by the Rwanda Media Commission.
As such, RMC’s mandate is to regulate and watch over the conduct of not only local journalists working for local media houses but also those working for international news organisations such as BBC, RFI, VOA or any other person representing a foreign news organisation.
The law states that any media complaint relating to violation of broadcast rights or laws, filed with Rura, whether by the general public or individuals, is forwarded to RMC for action.
Rura was created in 2001 to regulate the telecommunications network and/or telecommunications services, electricity, water, removal of waste products from residential or business premises, extraction and distribution of gas and transport of goods and persons.
The decision to suspend BBC, which has since drawn the ire of media freedom watchdogs, has divided opinion, with some officials attempting to justify a decision that could impact on Rwanda’s already not impressive media credentials.
But Rura stands by its decision, saying its actions were within its legal boundaries and were based on what they say amounts to “genocide denial.”
Beata Mukangabo, head of corporate, legal and industry affairs at Rura, said the law establishing Rura and the media law gives it legal powers to act on consumer complaints.
“Rura has the responsibility to ensure that all media organisations operating in the country comply with the law. We have been receiving complaints from the public, Members of Parliament, civil society and genocide survivor organisations,” said Mrs Mukangabo.
The EastAfrican understands that there were disagreements whether the decision to suspend BBC would be executed.
According to sources, the initial letter addressed to BBC was signed by the Minister for Foreign Affairs and government spokesperson Louise Mushikiwabo and the Senate president Bernard Makuza but it was halted minutes to its release, over concerns that it would look like a government decision.
It was later agreed that Rura make the decision after RMC declined to do so.
BBC has said the Great Lakes Service had no role in the making of the documentary because it was shown on BBC 2, which does not broadcast in Rwanda.