Rwanda: There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth

By: Jennifer Fierberg, MSW

In an ironic analysis of the media situation in Rwanda, the publication, East African Business Week of Kampala, published a piece on March 26, 2012 entitled “Rwanda: Nation Moves to Improve Media Image” (http://allafrica.com/stories/201203261576.html). However, Rwanda has just kicked their worst tabloid/gossip paper into high gear.

Rwanda has created a news website devoted to discrediting opposition groups to the current ruling party, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), and anyone who has ever mentioned this group in their publications. This “news” site, www.theexposer.net, is full of slander and misinformation and is believed to be run out of the same offices of their government owned and operated newspaper.

The writers for this site lack neither any form of spell check nor reputable editors that can catch even the lowest primary school grammar mistake. They have no references for any of the “factual” information they report and a three year old child could produce better drawings to depict their hatred.

This website started badly and has only gotten worse in content, images, grammar, facts and readership. While it seems to attract some readers, it does not attract those who they are targeting. They claim “Our news will be nonpartisan, covering all aspects of life in Rwanda.” Even the blind can see that goal appears to tear down the credibility of specific opposition groups such as the Rwanda National Congress (RNC) yet what they are failing to realize is that they are doing quite the opposite. The lies published are so outlandish and unbelievable that even their faithful readers cannot even begin to comprehend that such falsehoods could even be true.

What’s even more disturbing is that they claim on their website that, “We will expose those who claim to hold the truth, instead of twisting it for their own interests,” but one cannot fail to question whose interests they are protecting in the first place. Let us first look at some basic principles of journalism:

Journalism 101

There are nine basic principles as identified after years of research and collaboration by the Committee of Concerned Journalists (journalism.org). Let me compare them to the content on the website:

  1. JOURNALISM’S FIRST OBLIGATION IS TO THE TRUTH

Anyone who reads this site will quickly be able to tell that the content is so over-the-top (sensationalized) that nothing in it is even believable. Even the videos they claim as proof are obviously staged. For all the times they have written about me, only two facts have been true; I am a social worker by profession and I publish press releases and other information about the RNC as an organization. By the way, the BBC and the VOA also publish the same interviews and press releases and yet they do not come under fire from this site as I do. Anyone who follows me knows that I publish many items on Africa with a focus on Rwanda and the Great Lakes Region of Africa.

  1. ITS FIRST LOYALTY IS TO CITIZENS

The IP address of this site has been investigated and it is quite certainly published inside of Rwanda. It shares the same IP address as another website also published in Rwanda, www.abiwacu.com, which is dedicated to learning how to speak Kinyarwanda which is the native language of Rwanda. So as to this principle, I am not sure who the target audience is. First, it is mainly published in English which best estimates say that about 20% of the population is fluent. Secondly, it is only internet based, so whoever reads this site must have internet access wish is also a very small part of the population. Most of those who have continual access to internet live in the capitol city of Kigali much of the rural population receive their news via the radio or cellphones. What does slandering this journalist do to serve the general population of Rwanda?

  1. ITS ESSENCE IS A DISCIPLINE OF VERIFICATION

This principle is quite obvious in nature. They seem to verify nothing and do not quote sources. The “writers” do not sign their own names to the “articles.” It is easy to hide behind a “by our reporter” or other pseudonym when one is conducting propaganda for the government.

  1. IT MUST SERVE AS AN INDEPENDENT MONITOR OF POWER

When the goal of a website is to ruin the credibility of another organization or person without the use of facts, sources or even authors then they are just a tabloid/gossip journalism site.

  1. ITS PRACTITIONERS MUST MAINTAIN AN INDEPENDENCE FROM THOSE THEY COVER

This principle is one they probably abide by.

  1. IT MUST PROVIDE A FORUM FOR PUBLIC CRITICISM AND COMPROMISE

Neither of these qualities, public criticism or compromise, are evident on this website. But from those who read it and speak to me about it all know that little on this site is accurate and no one really believes it. They may get names or affiliations correct but the lies are so outlandish it is hard to take anything seriously that they write.

  1. IT MUST STRIVE TO MAKE THE SIGNIFICANT INTERESTING AND RELEVANT

This one the readers will have to judge for themselves.

  1. IT MUST KEEP THE NEWS COMPREHENSIVE AND PROPORTIONAL

The website does not even come close on this principle! They write about one oppositional organization and only its members and non-members that have ever been associated with it.

  1. ITS PRACTITIONERS MUST BE ALLOWED TO EXERCISE THEIR PERSONAL CONSCIENCE

The obvious nature of this principle is that the “writers” have no conscience.

Use of sexuality and sexual images

This website wrote in some “exclusive and breaking news style” that I am a social worker. True, I do hold a Master’s degree in Social Work. This fact is stated in my writer’s biography at the end of every article I publish. So in that vein, let’s take a look at the psychology of this website.

In the Handbook of Clinical Psychology Competencies, the authors discuss sexual deviance in this way, “Dysfunctional thinking styles that have been identified as relevant to sexual deviance include sexual entitlement (Hanson, Gizzarelli, & Scott, 1994); Negative views of women and their sexuality (Malamuth & Brown, 1994; Marshall & Hambley, 1996); and general aggressive thinking (p. 963).” The “artist” on the site has a very peculiar habit, bordering on a mental illness, of drawing his/her subjects naked, half naked, defecating or in other suggestive positions.

I believe Freud would enjoy evaluating this person to find out where such sexual deviance is rooted. The disrespect for all women as sexual objects only is not surprising but disturbing to any woman who reads the site. A source from Rwanda recently stated that, “defamation, slander and demonization has always formed and indeed been part of Rwanda’s politics.” These are the qualities that the website prides themselves on.

What is it all for?

If Rwanda really seeks to clean up its media image, as reported in the opening link of this piece, they ought to take another look at The Exposer website. I don’t believe this is the image that the Rwandan Media wishes to put forth but their long history of media and political repression speaks for itself. The article calls for new media freedoms but when the ruling party rules out of fear then any freedom must be silenced. President Kagame stated in last year’s National Dialogue regarding this issue, “”I have been always forced to discuss the issue of media freedom in our country and I have always (unwillingly) done so because it’s one of ‘their’ demands for donation.”

Aspiring to be a free press nation is one thing but getting there will necessitate going through fundamental changes centered on ending media censorship. I am not sure the government of Rwanda is ready for this and as long as they support this kind of “gutter-journalism,” the goal post will always keep moving farther away.

 

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