Umuseso and Umuvugizi, the two most popular tabloid newspapers in Rwanda (so I am told) have both been hit with a six month ban in the run up to the Presidential election in August. The Media High Council cite “violation of the media law and inciting public disorder” as the main drivers behind the ban.
“We have tried to engage the two media houses on several occasions, but they have acted stubbornly and have shown no will to change from their unprofessional way of doing things…” said [Executive Secretary of MHC, Patrice Mulama]
…“Such publications may incite fear which may eventually lead to the decline of foreign investments in the country for fear of instabilities which are all fabrications.”
“This kind of journalism cannot be tolerated in the country and this decision is going to serve as a warning to anyone who thinks that they can do such inciting acts and get away with it.” link
The Committee to Protect Journalists has responded to the temporary ban,
“By silencing these two local-language newspapers the Media High Council is robbing Rwanda voters of crucial alternative voices during the presidential election campaign,” said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Tom Rhodes said. “The ruling is a thinly disguised attempt at censorship. If the election is to be seen as free and fair, the council must reverse this ruling and ensure that all media are able to cover the campaign.” link
Umuseso and Umuvugizi are the only newspapers that the Rwandans I know in Kigali ever bother to read. I’m told Umuseso is printed in Uganda and shipped over the border. I’m also told there is only one newspaper printing press in Rwanda, and a queue at the door to use it’s services.
Umuseso has no website that I am aware of Umuseso has a website, but it appears to have been blocked from within Rwanda. Umuvugizi has a website that doesn’t appear to work.
I got into the habit of buying the weekly Umuseso every Monday. I’d pass it on to a friend who tells me my one copy finds its way through at least five different people during the course of a week. On hearing of the ban this morning, he asked me “Where am I going to get my information now?” Having said that, he’s addicted to the radio, the dominant news mechanism in Rwanda, although I don’t think there is a Umuseso-like radio station in Rwanda.
It’s interesting to note that while these two tabloid newspapers have been banned, The New Times received a certificate of appreciation from the government at the beginning of 2010. It’s also interesting to note the differences in tone among Rwandan newspapers when it comes to cartoons. Here are two examples, firstly from (the banned) Umuseso and secondly from (the not banned) Rwanda Focus, an English language weekly.
Expression Today has a very interesting breakdown of who owns the media in Rwanda, although I don’t know how accurate it is. Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo recently wrote about a number of “myths” around the Rwandan Media” in The Huffington Post,
Whether in the electronic or printed media, Rwandans have at their disposal every day a wide range of news and opinions, from pro-government voices to persistently hostile and sometimes abusive views. A cursory glance through the pages of Rwandan newspapers will show how loud the independent press screams out criticism — a snapshot of the current situation in Rwanda’s media can be found on the government website. In the last few weeks the press has accused the government of creating insecurity for political reasons, harassing the opposition, corruption, nepotism, of manipulating the justice system, employing criminals etc. link
The U.S. Embassy in Rwanda has a list of Rwandan newspaper and radio outlets, although it is not comprehensive. I keep a list of resources from Rwanda including news outlets and blogs – please let me know if you think I’m missing anything or you run a blog in or about Rwanda and would like it included.
UPDATE: Here are the latest two front covers of the banned newspapers. I assume we won’t see any new editions for the next six months:
UPDATE: Reuters reports on the ban quoting Reporters without borders,
Paris-based Reporters Without (RSF) slammed the 6-month suspension, saying it was designed to silence media critics.
“This decision clearly aims to gag Rwanda’s main sources of independent news in the run-up to the August 2010 presidential election,” RSF said in a statement Wednesday.
“It suppresses all critical journalism and deprives Rwandans of an alternative to the state newspapers,” RSF added. link
UPDATE: AFP quote the Media High Council,
Isabelle Karehangabo, a member of the Media High Council, said the suspension of publication of the Umuseso and Umuvugizi newspapers was in line with the country’s press laws. “It’s the first time a measure of this importance has been taken by the Media High Council”, she told AFP. link
Umuvugizi editor Jean Bosco Gasasira said the six-month suspension is intended to silence the two papers from covering Rwanda’s presidential elections scheduled for August this year.
“As you know we are entering into election period; the election period is going to be in August, but campaign starts in May. The Media High Council suspended our newspapers before getting orders from the Ministry of Justice. Secondly, just hours before that, the president (Paul Kagame) said in parliament that he’s tired of the criticizing newspapers. He’s going to close it in good faith or by force,” he said…
Listen to the audio of the interview with Jean Bosco Gasasira.
…Rwandan Justice Minister Tharcisse Karugarama said the Media High Council acted within Rwandan laws when it suspended the two papers.
“As far as I know from the legal point of view, the law on the media empowers the Media High Council to do that. The law provides both disciplinary and criminal proceedings. The penal code does indeed punish. Some of the utterances, some of the publications that the two papers were engaged in, I don’t think any criminal proceedings had been invoked at all. I think what has happened is that the Media High Council took disciplinary actions against the two papers,” Karugarama said. link
Listen to the audio of the interview with Rwanda justice minister Karugarama.
UPDATE: The New Times editorial discusses the ban,
Tuesday’s decision by the Media High Council to suspend two Kinyarwanda weekly newspapers should send clear signals that the days of irresponsible journalism are over.
Readers, have for the past three consecutive months been subjected to highly sensationalised publications by these media houses, with the intention of creating a state of fear and insecurity among Rwandans. link
UPDATE 19 April: No tears from Rwanda Focus,
No one knows how Umuvugizi decided that President Kagame would order a general shot like a rabid dog. Or how Umuseso arrived at the conclusion that a country lauded internationally for making an astonishing recovery from the terrible events of the genocide, is actually “being led into the darkness.”
But our “U” papers are not content to peddle only the alarmist or sensational. Incitement is generally part of the mix. Here is the closing paragraph of a typical feature piece in one of the papers: “Without a doubt, Rwandans need to rise up; they need to take up arms and fight this bad regime!”
No, I am not talking about an article in a Rwandan newspaper in 1994, the period that marked the rock bottom for the country’s media. I am talking about issue no. 374 of August 2009 of Umuseso, a Kigali-based newspaper. link
UPDATE 19 April: Rwanda News Agency report on a petition by Umuvugizi editor Mr. Jean Bosco Gasasira to reverse the decision. You need to register to see the article. However, as the Rwanda News Agency used my picture without asking me I’m going to copy and paste their article below without asking them,
UMUVUGIZI newspaper – one of the two suspended last week has accused the High Council of the Media of basing its decision on “sentiments and disregarding the law”, RNA reports.
In a petition to the Council on Monday, also copied to the Office of the President and several ministries, UMUVUGIZI publisher Mr. Jean Bosco Gasasira wants the decision reversed immediately.
On Wednesday last week, just hours before a major speech in which President Kagame demanded that media which was trading rumour “must stop” or they are stopped, the Media Council slammed a 6-month suspension on UMUSESO and UMUVUGIZI.
The Council says the two papers have since January been insulting the Head of State, sowing discontent in the army and causing panic in the population. Brandishing many copies of UMUSESO about two of UMUVUGIZI, the Council chairman Mr. Arthur Asiimwe and Executive Secretary Patrice Mulama argued that the papers were also creating the impression the situation in the country was insecure to investors.
However, in the petition, UMUVUGIZI chief says his paper is being treated as a “best man” for UMUSESO by being bundled together because no reasons were given for the suspension of UMUVUGIZI.
The only Issue 60 of UMUVUGIZI which the Council based on is that in which the paper details a complicated extramarital affair between state prosecutor Jean Bosco Mutangana and Dr. Diane Gashumba, head of the Rwanda Women Network.
The two senior officials have dragged the paper to court, which according to Mr. Gasasira bares the Media Council from prejudging the case. The case is in the appeals court.
Basing his arguments on articles 16, 73, 82, 83, 84 and 94 of the media law, Mr. Gasasira says UMUVUGIZI has “never been summoned” by the Media Council over the issues raised in the suspension decision. Mr. Gasasira also says the law states that before a paper is suspended for six months, it is warned, and then handed two months before the final decision.
“None of these were done,” he noted. “Instead [the media council] kept on saying UMUSESO, just like UMUVUGIZI is doing this and that…”
The controversial journalist says the Council disregarded the law with intent to “suppress freedom of press”.
Media rights groups have also come out in spirited defense of the papers. President Kagame for his part said he would not allow any media undermining national security to operate.
UPDATE 23 April, 2010: Canadian Governor General Michaëlle Jean discusses press freedom in Rwanda,
Jean waded into that sensitive territory Thursday, defending press freedom to 700 university students in comments that bookended a lively debate on the subject between Canadian and Rwandan panellists.
“Free media is a fundamental human right,” Jean said.
“It is one of those pivotal rights that is crucial to your realization of a host of other human rights in any society: freedom of expression, the right to democratic elections, even the right to a fair and public hearing…”
…President Paul Kagame expressed exasperation when the issue came up at a news conference this week with Canadian journalists, in the presence of Jean.
“Why do people keep talking (about this)?” Kagame said.
“You’re talking about two (newspapers). But you have almost 20 independent privately owned radios – FM radios and other radio. You have close to 70 papers…
“Maybe these two actually are the ones in the wrong – not the 67 (papers), not the 20 private radios…”
…The crowd burst out laughing when an official with Rwanda’s Media High Council described the regulatory body as arm’s-length from the government. He explained that the timing of the suspension, which came on the same day that Kagame publicly denounced the papers, was purely coincidental. link
UPDATE 23 April, 2010: The New Times finds seven people who agree with each other about the suspension of the two newspapers,
“Generally I believe the suspension is not enough. More stringent measures should be taken against these papers. They have for long been inciting violence and divisionism among the society and the army which is a terrible thing. Rwanda already has a record of bad history that we don’t want to see happening again.” link
UPDATE 27 May, 2010: Umuvugizi appeal turned down,
Rwanda’s high court has rejected an appeal made by Umuvugizi newspaper to the court to lift the ban imposed on them by the media high council. The Kinywarwanda tabloid was banned for a period of six months. The high court says Umuvugizi did not follow the right legal procedure in lodging the appeal. Gasasira Jean Bosco the paper’s proprietor said he will appeal the high court’s decision.
The spokesperson of the High court Kaliwabo Charles told Radio Rwanda that there is standard procedure that is followed in issuing a complaint against an administrative organ in the country. According to Kaliwabo this procedure was not followed by Umuvugizi.The Umuvugizi publisher had been found guilty of defamation and invading the privacy of the two government officials. However, the court cleared him of charges of insult and using abusive language. In the ruling, the court ordered that Mr. Gasasira pays up to Rwf 3 million (about US$ 6,000) as damages to the plaintiffs, instead of the Rwf 50 million demanded. link
The High Media Council has said the suspended UMUVUGIZI newspaper which is now publishing on the internet could be “blocked” from relaying into Rwanda, RNA reports. The latest threat to UMUVUGIZI comes after RNA revealed on Tuesday that the paper’s exiled editor had refused to abide by the April 13 six-month suspension – instead moving to the internet. Mr. Jean Bosco Gasasira is now publishing www.umuvugizi.com where the laid-out Issues of the paper will be posted as well as other news stories.
The High Media Council has also stepped in. Executive Secretary Mr. Patrice Mulama has warned that should the paper continue to defy the suspension, the Council could engage with other relevant institutions to have UMUVUGIZI not allowed to relay into Rwanda.
“We can work with other departments to have [UMUVUGIZI] blocked on the internet or any other modes,” Mr. Mulama told the BBC great lakes service Wednesday evening.
He said blocking websites has not been easy even in other countries but added that it was indeed “feasible”. The Council has not decided on the next course of action, he said, adding that there is already a case in court seeking a complete ban on UMUVUGIZI and UMUSESO. link subs required
Photograph of a Kigali newspaper seller taken from the Kigali Wire Flickr account.