To Understand What’s Going on in Kigali, Don’t Look to the News Media — at Least for Now
Careful examination of local media does not just provide insight into the flaws in our journalism and understanding of knowledge. It explains the nature of governance and accountability in institutions which are the cornerstone of our own civilisation. Essentially, it also constitutes an indication of how we treat information as a society.
Rwanda’s news media feeds through trending events, most of which are campaign launches, conferences or workshops and — not least — dinner parties. The outcome, in many ways, offers little substance and streams of distraction that lead audiences to retain mere slogans and miss a clear understanding of issues at hand. This is true even when it comes to policy. (Findings from this 2016 study by an independent network of journalists offer a comprehensive view to the weakness.)
In our world of media, most journalists cry access to concrete information and communications professionals overlook their potential, citing lack of skill and professionalism (this is emphasised in the 2018 media barometer, published by the Rwanda Governance Board). The views you get, from both sides, in a nutshell, are always interesting. And, to say the least, in the absence of smooth collaboration and candid respect between the parties, there is risk to go out of touch with reality in stories about modern Rwanda.
Even in the presence of a fairly satisfactory Access to Information Law, information remains scarce. What is useful as information is highly disputable because the government, the private sector, the civil society, and the media subconsciously disagree on “priorities” and how to go about plans. In such circumstances, however, to achieve common goals more effectively as a system becomes difficult. The good thing is, amidst the lack of such harmony, everybody serves the greater purpose of building this nation — even when it doesn’t seem that way. All parties in Rwanda agree on one thing: we’re a poor country and we need to get out of the mess in which history has left us. To achieve this demands top-notch collaboration, and active citizen participation.
But the risk of letting institutions work in silo presents a danger to the flow of information. Informed citizens make informed decisions, and it keeps the country safe in the long run. So the ability for institutions to be transparent and communicate not just effectively but proactively as a responsibility — and be open to scrutiny — is essential for good governance and accountability and progress. Local media’s role in fostering this is paramount.
In Rwanda, many people aren’t informed about economic and democratic issues with a broad perspective. It is mainly due to a communications deficit between the government, local media, the civil society, and the private sector. This unhealthy relationship makes what we get in the local press. And it is essentially what weakens our faculty of reason.
Whether one agrees with their methods or not, journalists and other media professionals deserve the benefits of robust relationships so they can perform their duties more effectively. Until they are provided with decent information and what they need to make sense of facts proactively, consumers of local content get nothing but lack of clarity.
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