Collin Haba, the managing editor of the New Times, Rwanda’s only English daily newspaper, spoke about the current state of the media in his country during an INK+BEYOND session titled Rwanda: The Challenge of Speaking the Truth.
Focusing on the important role media plays in a democratic society, Haba outlined the past and current issues with the Rwandan media.
“The media played a very, very unfortunate role in the genocide…the things they published were just unheard of,” said Haba. “There were editorials that would instruct people to kill, articles that would clearly incite that kind of hate.”
Haba said the main issues with Rwandan media during the genocide were the misguided perceptions that the media existed only to serve the ends of the leaders and government, the lack of legal infrastructure for a free media, and the presence of only nine trained journalists – eight of which were working for the government.
Despite the dark history of Rwandan media, and lack of independence from the government, Haba is hopeful for the future. He sees opportunity in the growing technology and education networks.
He said the current media either opposes everything the government does or strongly agrees with it. He wishes it to become a more critical, open, question-asking forum for the public to engage it.
He also explained the impact of untrained journalists working in such a fragile country.
“When you look at the way they work, in any country it would be considered unacceptable. Because they don’t have the skills, they resort to sensational stuff,” Haba said. “That’s the dilemma we have, it’s all a result of lack of skills.”
Haba said the greatest challenge to changing the Rwandan media landscape is the lack of instructors. With 80 students a year enrolling in journalism and communication education, the odds of positive change are high.
“You can feel that the future is looking really, really bright for media,” said Haba. “Don’t get me wrong, all is not well, there are challenges here…but that should not stop us.”