The Rwandan Media Monitoring Project was established by the High Council of the Press in 2003 to monitor media coverage of that year’s elections in Rwanda. The desire to monitor the media was stimulated by pending presidential and parliamentary elections and the High Council of the Press’ mission of ensuring that political parties and associations of political interest equitably share airtime in the public media. The High Council of the Press also wished to closely monitor professionalism in the Rwandan media with regard to respect of the media law and the code of ethics.

Election monitoring is a best-practice method to ensure the media equitably covers the elections. In other words, no party should get preferential treatment and the various manifestos should be accurately captured in the media. In the process of setting up the project, it attracted international support for monitoring media during elections. It was initially supported by International Media Support (IMS) and Norwegian people’s aid (NPA).

This project produced in October 2003 a report on media coverage of the elections and proceeded to produce more including among others; professionalism in the media in Rwanda, media coverage of the 10th commemoration of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.

The latter reports are a reminder every year of the genocide and the need to avoid such violence in future. Monitoring media coverage every year also ensures that messages in the media are in line with media law, journalists’ code of ethics and human rights standards. This is particularly important as the media was used as an agent of propaganda to create and intensify ethnic tension and implement the agenda of Tutsi genocide.

When the support of IMS and NPA to the project ended in April 2004, the project was brought under the wing of the High Council of the Press (HCP). HCP was established in 2002 as an independent institution in Rwanda tasked with promoting freedom of the press through regulation of media conduct and legal compliance. In order to effectively achieve this mission, it became necessary to create a single journalism code which was in line with media law. This code would integrate and upgrade the various media codes in Rwanda which were not necessarily consistent with each other and led to confusion amongst media practitioners.

The process of developing a new code began with a meeting between HCP in Rwanda and the Media Monitoring Project in South Africa. A draft code was drawn up based on best practice African and International codes. This draft was drawn upon and finalised by an elected task team of media practitioners. It was subsequently adopted by Rwandan media practitioners in 2005, during a media workshop organised by the HCP in conjuction with the Press House. Over 300 media practitioners have since signed in approval this code.

By ensuring the media is involved in self-regulation, issues of the freedom of the press are addressed while ethical standards are upheld. However, the balance between issues of freedom and ethical practice is difficult to maintain, particularly in the comparatively smaller media sector in Rwanda whose history has been severely tainted by the genocide. The government is also not under obligation to take on board the recommendations of the HCP, whenever the latter tries to protect press freedom. As a result, revision of the media and HCP laws became a priority and the HCP is currently developing instructions conserning the protection of press freedom and regulation of media excesses.

Using a comprehensive approach HCP monitors the media to identify problems facing the profession and improve the quality of journalism through training. In their experience, they have found media monitoring a very good tool for promoting professionalism in the media. Monitoring also supports the law and code of ethics. By monitoring the HCP is in the position to see whether journalists are acting in line with the code developed and exhort them to better ethical and human rights sensitive journalism. However, in order to maintain the respect of journalists as an authoritative body, it is critical to maintain high quality monitoring reports. In order to support the work of the HCP, the MMP in South Africa has recently travelled to Rwanda to share experiences of media monitoring.

Media all over the world has a delicate balance to maintain. By monitoring the media in Rwanda, the monitoring team at the HCP promote the tenants of human rights and ethical reporting.

– By Sandra Roberts and Patrice Mulama