Since early 1994, I’ve returned to Rwanda, at the very least, annually. This has enabled me to see the changes and improvements taking place in the media. Following this latest trip in September 2008, I can concretely list advancements throughout radio, newspapers and TV and give specifics about the open self assessment and criticism occurring among media practitioners. But the most positive of all our experiences was teaching the inaugural class at the Great Lakes Media Center, GLMC. The Kigali-based center opened in February 2008 to provide journalism training to practicing journalists.
At the end of 2005, during a meeting with the GLMC stakeholders, a timid rookie from public newspaper Imvaho raised her hand and told the cabinet ministers, academic provosts and media owners to quit the endless discussion about how the center would function and who would control it. Reporter Phoibe Niwemutoni told the august group to stop talking and take the steps necessary to open the center as soon as possible. She said, “We’ve had enough discussion; we need the center now.” The group laughed and applauded the bold demand coming from someone who had seemed too shy to comment.
Nearly three years later, Ron Nixon and I arrived at the Great Lakes Media Center study facility to begin the week of investigative reporting training and in the first row was Imvaho reporter Niwemutoni. Phoibe Niwemutoni represents the conviction and perseverance of Rwandan journalists to do what it takes to raise their level of journalism performance. She waited patiently but made sure she was among the first 30 participants chosen for the fledgling program.
This trip was memorable for numerous reasons. The two weeks were packed with training in investigative reporting and multimedia sessions at private radio Contact FM and the Great Lakes Media Center. We participated in a moderated panel with Rwandan President Paul Kagame in which media issues were discussed. Additionally, we organized a panel discussion event among nearly 50 journalists, academics and media owners to debate the topic, “Credibility in Journalism and the Rwanda media.”
Panelists included the Rwandan Public Office of Information Director Oscar Kimanuka; The New York Times’ Ron Nixon; Shyaka Kanuma, founder and editor of Focus newspaper and Paul Mbaraga, an National University of Rwanda journalism lecturer and former correspondent for Deutsche Welle radio. Contact FM radio owner and director Albert Rudatsimburwa, a GLMI board member, served as the moderator.
The topic of the discussion: The journalism profession worldwide is facing a crisis of credibility, a struggle to anticipate and incorporate technological innovations and reverse declining revenue figures and audience numbers. When even the more established news organizations are wondering what it will take to survive, how are the Rwanda media responding? How do the Rwandan media improve their economic outlook, raise the standards of professionalism and gain credibility with the public?
Ron Nixon assessed his ongoing efforts with GLMI training in Rwanda by crediting the news organizations, Contact FM specifically, with improving professionally. However serious challenges confront the news organizations. Nixon states: “Accuracy in media outlets continues to be a problem as mistakes, many of them simple, continue to crop up. Even more problematic, stories in all media outlets continue to be dominated by meeting stories which tell Rwandans little about what is going on in their everyday lives.”
Nixon continues: “These problems can be addressed by continued training and skills-building sessions for journalists. But the biggest problem is the lack of steady pay for journalists at many of the outlets in Rwanda. Unless this is addressed, skills-building and journalism training will not be successful.”
For GLMI to remain relevant and help Rwandan news organizations in their efforts to improve and inform the public, we must join them to seek solutions for their sustainable economic health. The journalism won’t improve until local journalists are more concerned about the product they’re producing than whether they’ll get paid at the end of the month. We are committed to work with the media owners and Rwandan journalism associations to find solutions to this serious economic challenge as our program emphasis for 2009.