Today May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. We celebrate this day at a time when we also commemorate 25 years after the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in which the media, unfortunately, also played a destructive role.
This is therefore, a time for reflection both on why the media promoted the genocide project, and how the media can promote democratic governance and Never Again to Genocide today and the years ahead.
This reflection is critically important because, unlike the liberal belief and faith that the media necessarily promotes democratic values, peaceful co-existence, greater understanding and development, in reality, the media can advance division, violence and extermination – as media’s role in the genocide illustrates.
For there is no doubt that media outlets like Kangura, Echo des 1000 Collines, La Médaille Nyiramacibiri and RTLM, to mention but a few, played a key role in legitimizing, promoting and defending the extermination of Tutsis because of who they were, as well as killing those that disagreed with this position.
However, while it’s true that the media promoted the genocide agenda, we must also recognize this was only possible because the media was neither free nor capable to successfully resist the coercion and the killing machine of the genocide regime.
We learn that the media wasn’t free from the fact that shareholders of RTLM hate radio were prominent members of the ruling Akazu─including President Habyarimana’s father-in-law Felien Kabuga, ministers as well as senior military officers.
We also learn that media wasn’t free due to the fact that media outlets that opposed the genocide agenda were not only silenced, but their owners and journalists were also killed. The evidence for this is that, at the Media High Council, there are 53 names of journalists and editors who were killed for either opposing the genocide agenda or due to who they were.
We also learn that the media wasn’t free from the genocide regime due to the fact that while the media that opposed the genocide was financially crippled, the one that supported it was financed supported by the security apparatus and state institutions.
What this teaches us is that the media can only promote democratic governance and rule of law where the government isn’t criminal but also where there is complete, NOT selective press freedom, as was the case during the genocide, and where the media itself makes promoting such values an editorial choice that’s pursued daily.
Where media freedom is guaranteed, the populace not only get divergent views and opinions, is also able to question undemocratic and violent voices in a climate where state institutions can arbitrate where crime is detected.
It’s for this reason that, at The Chronicles, we believe that a free, independent and financially sustainable media isn’t only good for Rwanda but also critical for consolidating rule of law, consensual power-sharing political settlement, democratic governance and NEVER AGAIN Genocide.
It’s for this reason that as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day today, we call on the government to consolidate the structural gains made─such as enacting good media laws and decriminalizing defamation as well as liberalizing the sector by letting the media market free so that media houses can compete without an indivisible hand that takes funding to preferred media outlets.