I had a double take when I saw the weekly Umusingi tabloid for sale on the streets of central Kigali yesterday. Firstly, I haven’t seen this newspaper for several weeks. Secondly, not only are there two very large, very naked breasts on the cover, but two gruesome images of the almost completely decapitated head of Andre Kagwa Rwisereka, an opposition politician found murdered in July, 2010.
My immediate reaction was, “surely you can’t publish these images on the cover of a Rwandan newspaper?” Especially in a country ranked in the bottom 10 in the recent Reporters without Borders press freedom index. My second thought was that, you could never get away with this in the UK.
To check my assumptions, I asked David Banks, a British media law expert, whether this is something a publisher could legally run with in the UK. I knew the breasts wouldn’t be a problem in Britain, but to my surprise, he told me the images of the murdered politician would probably be OK too,
“Bare breasts might get you put on the top shelf of a newsagents, but not generally by law. The beheading is gruesome, but not, I think, graphic enough to warrant any action.”
I haven’t delved deeply into Rwandan Media Law, but I presume the same attitude prevails – especially as the images have appeared in the printed press and online before.
Indeed, Rwanda is no stranger to publishing graphic images. Only in April, 2010 did the state broadcaster decide, for the first time since the 1994 Genocide, to water down images shown on TV during the 16th memorial.
In retrospect, Umusingi is probably using the old tabloid editor’s trick of running shocking images on the cover to entice the reader inside. Having said that, Umusingi – which means Foundation in English – did get into trouble with the Media High Council recently as reported by Rwanda News Agency (subs only),
The [Media High] Council says “articles [published by UMUSINGI] are always full of slanders” which “are subject to punishment by the law.” In the articles, the Council says [editor Nelson Gatsimbazi] uses Kinyarwanda words that mean different things from what he wanted to insinuate. link
For the record, the four main headlines on the cover of Umusingi pictured above roughly translate as:
– The big drum beats louder than the small drum
– Rwanda strangles the press – places third worst in Africa for media
– Do you know why my breasts are so big?
– The family of Rwisereka need support
Photograph of the Kigali newspaper seller taken from the Kigali Wire iPernity account.