The Rwandan government is considering reintroducing state control over the media barely two years after granting them self-regulation.
The EastAfrican has learnt that the government is drafting a ministerial order that will transfer the responsibility of regulating content and accrediting foreign journalists to the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (Rura), effectively giving the state control over the media.
According to the draft Prime Minister’s Order (PMO) seen by The EastAfrican, the responsibility to control media content will be handed to Rura “to protect the interests of all consumers against programmes of pornography, child abuse, violence, discriminatory programmes, divisionism as well as programmes against national integrity.”
The order also gives Rura the responsibility “to issue accreditation to a foreign or Rwandan journalist working for a foreign media organ.”
Yet Article 4 of the Media Law recognises self-regulation and empowers journalists to establish professional standards, which are to be enforced by the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC). As such, RMC’s mandate is to regulate and watch over the conduct of journalists working for local and foreign media houses.
The law states that any complaint relating to violation of broadcast rights or laws, filed with Rura is forwarded to RMC for action.
The new development comes in the wake of the BBC documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story, which pitted the public regulatory body against the media self-regulation body.
Rura’s decision to suspend the Kinyarwanda programming of the British Broadcasting Corporation contravened the country’s media laws.
According to the new media law, only RMC could have made a decision on BBC had Rura submitted a complaint to it.
The media regulator would then inform Rura of the decision that had been taken.
The documentary, which was released on October 1 last year, angered the government of Rwanda over its alleged denial and trivialisation of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi, prompting the government to suspend BBC Kinyarwanda broadcasts.
“These allegations are unfounded. There is no attempt by the government to take back media-self regulation. The PMO is coming in to support the law that established Rura and therefore it cannot remove the law, which establishes RMC,” Gerald Mbanda, head of media and communications at the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB) told The EastAfrican.
“The government and other partners like UNDP are the ones funding media self-regulation and therefore we cannot be the ones to undermine it,” Mr Mbanda added.
However, sources within the government said the PMO drafting started over a year ago without consultation with key stakeholders — RMC or journalists.
But, with a few days remaining for it to be tabled before the Cabinet, RMC reached out to the then minister of local government James Musoni to consider returning it so that journalists could have an input.
“Our suggestion was considered and we gave our input.
But after we reached a consensus, later we found that there are some changes made after what we had considered to be the final draft,” said RMC chairman Fred Muvunyi.
“The current leadership of the Ministry of Local Government wrote to RMC seeking written inputs, we are still ironing out some issues that both parties disagreed on, and we will then send them,” Mr Muvunyi said.
“Indeed, the PMO will be a major setback to press development in Rwanda because it will introduce a new regime of co-regulation.
It is a step back from self-regulation,” said Robert Mugabe, the editor of Great Lakes Voice and a press freedom activist.