Journalism in Rwanda usually does not progress beyond superficial descriptions of events and issues. News organizations provide their readers with a gist of Rwandan life, but keep the complex issues and happenings in the country a secret that can only be lived to learn — not read about.
What Rwandan Journalism Looks Like
As the government claims to support free press while simultaneously threatening any investigative or anti-government pieces, journalists are left with few avenues to report with honesty and depth. Much of Rwandan journalism can be seen as a sanitized form of cheerleader journalism. There is a lack of any opposition or questioning within stories, but the main narratives are not enthusiastically supported either.
A good example of this toned-down cheerleader journalism can be seen in an article published this week by The New Times, Rwanda’s English language newspaper. The article focused on meat industry officials calling for butchers to embrace technology and “professionalism.” The general outline uses quotes from officials to state why a change is needed and how it will be beneficial. However, no counter-argument for increased technology is given and no butchers were interviewed. There is no information regarding who will pay for the new technology or how butchers will become educated in the new system. The quote which ends the article is from a meat dealers’ representative and simply states “I believe that everything will be sorted.”
By only concentrating on the main narrative and official stance of the story, the true affect this call to action will have is not accessible to readers. The journalist ends up supporting the government by withholding any coverage of anti-government statements or beliefs. Rwandan journalists undergo strict self-censorship to protect themselves from government threats, which results in one-sided stories and incomplete pictures.
What Rwandan Journalists Look Like
The average Rwandan journalist is a young to middle-aged man with relatively little journalism training. Even journalists who are able to go to college to study journalism are met with little resources and a lack of quality education. In recent years, universities such as University of Rwanda are pushing for programs that strengthen the training of future Rwandan journalists.
There has also been a push in recent years to encourage more Rwandan women to pursue journalism. Ni Nyampinga, a project by the non-profit organization, Girl Effect, is Rwanda’s first teen magazine and is written by women, for women. Ni Nyampinga’s content focuses on women’s issues and successes in Rwanda and offers mentorship and training for its writers. Through initiatives like Ni Nyampinga, women are stepping into a very male-dominated profession and are not only producing content as well as their male counterparts, but are also reporting on important stories that are often neglected.
Despite slight improvements in Rwandan journalism, it is still difficult to be a journalist in the country. While journalists who develop good relationships with government officials and agree to report on them kindly can earn a decently living and hold some prestige in society, any journalist who chooses to question authority will be threatened and face potential danger or unemployment.
Robert Mugabe, a Rwandan journalist and editor, gained considerable celebrity in Rwanda when he decided to publish an expose about life as a Rwandan journalist. Mugabe commented on the struggle for unbiased journalism in Rwanda and the separation in lifestyle and safety of journalists who pursue truth and those who agree to unquestionably support government officials.
“You try to do what is right and stand for the ethics and principles of journalism but you find yourself going to bed hungry, despite several potential award-winning stories you have under your name. On the other hand, your colleagues and age-mates who decided to take a different route cruise in expensive cars–yet both are considered journalists,” Mugabe wrote.
There are currently no successful journalists in Rwanda who make a decent living while being able to report without governmental bias. Until government threats subside and allow Rwandan journalists to undergo less self-censorship, journalism in Rwanda will not be truthful or safe to produce.
Featured image by Graham Holliday.