By Daniel Sabiiti
Media freedom was non-existent before the 1994 Tutsi genocide. There were only two radio stations in Rwanda until 1994 when the Genocide against Tutsi erupted. Media reforms liberalized the space thus increasing the number to 36 FM stations, and 12 TV channels have opened up.
The second edition of Rwanda Media Barometer released on Monday, shows the country has improved on several indicators of freedom of expression by 81.2%.
The survey relied on; regulation of freedom, plurality, access, democratic discourse, capacity, commitment, and infrastructure, the new barometer saw a 8.9% rise in overall score.
All indicators combined performed at 69.6% this year, compared to 60.7 percent in 2013. The report coincided with the 8th Rwanda Media Dialogue 2016.
Scoring higher this year was the Freedom of expression under the item of “system of regulation conducive to freedom of expression, pluralism and diversity of media”. The item scored 82.1 percent this year compared to 71.5 in 2013.
“The improvement can be a result of the increase in media houses including community radios that operate in the proximity of rural people those who rarely have the opportunity to have their voice heard,” the report said in part.
The report shows that media in Rwanda is becoming more and more community friendly. An indicator on how the media serves the needs of all groups in society has increased at a rate of 14.5 per cent. The score was below the average with 39.9 per cent in 2013 and it is now standing at 54.4 per cent in the current review.
This improvement has been linked to, among others, reforms that transformed the National broadcasting agency-ORINFOR into a public broadcaster (RBA) pushing it to embrace citizen focused reporting.
From this perspective, the number of debates touching on citizens’ concerns increased with the number of private owned media.
Social media trends in the century have also been a key factor. Facebook leads as the highest source of information, followed by WhatsApp-which became popular barely three years ago.
The social media and TV are among alternatives to the traditional media including radio and newspaper which are, apparently, losing their popularity.
The rate of radio listeners dropped to 89 percent this year from 95.5 percent in 2013 while newspapers remained the least popular as a result of increased online websites (over 100 now).
Every hour, about 120 Rwandans subscribe to internet, according to the country’s ICT sector survey of 2014. Between 2013 and 2014, internet subscribers increased to 1,043,813 people.
This is a result of Internet infrastructure. Rwanda has laid over 3,000km of fiber optic cable since 2009.
Justice Minister and Government Attorney Johnston Busingye, said “the ball is now in the hands of the media to prove their worth while practicing constructive journalism.”
The United Nations representative in Rwanda, Lamin M. Manneh commended Rwandan government for having created a steady and vibrant media sector which has seen a steady growth.
Despite these trends however, media investment is still financially struggling, mainly due to lack of advertisement content.
“I believe the government is playing its important role of creating favorable environment for practitioners. The media needs the Private Sector that is willing to spend on media services” said Albert Rudatsimburwa, the proprietor of Contact FM.
The problem of advert has seen some Kenyan Based Nation Media owned Kfm and YEGO TV close shop, in the past two years.