Michael Fairbanks gives a glowing review of Rwanda in the Huffington Post today along with a self-critical look at his past involvement in the aid world. His article is is one of several simultaneous pieces that appear aimed at countering a growing number of negative reports about Rwanda. Fairbanks lays out an interesting and overwhelmingly positive look at Rwanda. However, he makes at least a couple of potentially misleading claims.
Firstly, he cites “a list of news outlets that work in the country”,
Time, Newsweek, New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, AP, AFP, NPR, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, CBS, CNN, NBC, CBC, Guardian, Times of London, Independent, Financial Times, Daily Telegraph, Economist, Al Jazeera, NHK, East Africa TV, SABC, ETV, France 24, TV5, FR3, TF1, RFI, Canal+, Jeune Afrique, Der Spiegel, Arte TV, VPRO link
That’s one helluvan impressive list but, as far as I understand it, hardly any of these media outlets have a permanent presence in Rwanda. It might be better to say, this is “a list of news outlets that have reported from, or published reports from, Rwanda in recent months”.
I understand AFP have a local stringer, Reuters have Hez Holland and the BBC (not listed) have a radio presence. Deutsche Welle and VOA are also here and Josh Kron occasionally strings for the New York Times. The Economist don’t have anyone here, nor do The Times, Guardian, Daily Telegraph, Independent and the Financial Times. I presume a good chunk of the others listed refer to the freelancers who pass through town now and then. Or, at best, there are a few more stringers in there.
If I am wrong, and I hope I am, we definitely need to set up a Rwandan Foreign Correspondent’s Club. I’ll wager whichever bar becomes the default meeting place will see profits quadruple overnight. Guaranteed
In addition, Fairbanks says,
I called the Communications Director for the President and formally requested the list of news outlets that work in the country that have not been banned. The office provided the list to me in a few hours, and I was told that no one else has ever made that request. It is a varied list of world-class organizations functioning well. link
By coincidence, the same information Fairbanks got from his phone call was released during a press briefing on April 27. In fact, if you go through these slides, you’ll see Fairbanks entire article is a condensed version of the information dished out during the press briefing.
He goes on to paint a picture of paradise in Africa. I won’t delve into the politics end of his analysis as it’s not a world I really understand. I don’t truly understand the media world either, but… he asks,
“Why hasn’t anyone contrasted the activities of the three-dozen press organizations that thrive in Rwanda versus the two that were banned for six months?“
They have. Expression Today analysed who owns Rwandan media. They concluded,
There are more than 60 registered print and broadcast media houses but less than 20 of these are active. A close analysis indicates that almost all are either owned by the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) or are godfathered by very top spy chiefs. That gives Kagame a clear lead in the publicity contest. link
Meanwhile, if it’s facts you need checking. Rwanda Fact Check promises to put you right.
UPDATE: For a rebuttal to some of the points raised in the Expression Today article, see this editorial by the Director of Contact FM.
Photograph taken from the Kigali Wire Flickr account.