Media ordered to re-register in 90 daysFive months after Rwanda's media law was gazetted, the media have begun to feel the pinch of its enforcement.
On January 27, the Media High Council summoned all media owners to remind them of articles 95 and 96 that provide for registration of all media organizations that existed in the country prior to the promulgation of the law.
“Notwithstanding the provisions of Article 95 of this law, media organs in place before the publication of this law in the Official Gazette of the Republic of Rwanda shall, within a period not exceeding three (3) months as from publication of this law, have declared to the Media High Council, the requirements referred to under Article 24 of this Law,” Article 96 says in part.
Article 24 says, “Before launching any media organ, its owner or its publishing director shall file a written application to the Media High Council. If it is a government-owned media organ, it shall be the authority of the institution wishing to launch it or its director appointed by the relevant organ who files the application to the media high council”.
The application shall include:
- detailed identity of the owner of the media organ where it is an individual or the charter establishing the media organ where it belongs to some legal entity;
- detailed identity of the Publishing Director and of the Chief-Editor;
- document certifying that a print media enterprise is registered in the trade register in case such a media organ is business oriented
- criminal record for the Publishing Director and the Chief-Editor; certificate testifying that the Publishing Director and the Chief-Editor have at least (21) years old;
- the title of the media organ;
- terms of reference clarifying the editorial line which the publication is to adopt;
- registered capital of the publication;
- address of the press enterprise;
- description of the publication;
- periodicity of the publication and broadcasting programme for audiovisual media organs;
- language (s) of the publication;
- capacity of audio-visual transmitting equipments.
According to the law, the capital of private media enterprises is determined by an Order of the Minister in charge of information after consultation with the Media High Council.
The Council had set a deadline of February 24 for submission of applications but it was pushed forward by three months after a meeting with journalists.
The January 27 Council letter says, “a media organ that will not respect the requirements of the article will be deemed non-existing, reminding you that failure to respect the article is punishable by the media law”.
Although journalists owning small media houses managed to convince the Council that they needed time to organize the required items, they too know that they will not be able to register as the motive of the government seems beyond just respecting the law. Most of them cannot state their periodicity given their irregularity, others do not have the human resource and ownership is undefined. The most vociferous and provocative ones that are the potential targets of the article may not beat the criminal record requirement.
Some of the journalists ET talked to saw the article as a technical way of phasing out the provocative media.
“This was the best way to show us the exit. Of course none of the independent media will pass all the requirements and it being a law, there will be no dust to be raised,” said Marcel Museminari of the Business Daily, one of the irregular publications.
The independent journalists say this will enable government keep what is considered good media (meaning those that will toe the government line) and none of the alternative publications will survive the wave.
Others say they asked for an extended deadline to get the required personnel since most of them are one-man management and editorial teams. Stories re bought from freelancers and it is not possible to differentiate between the chief editor and ownership of the media.
Jean Bosco Gasasira, managing director of Umuvugizi weekly newspaper and one of the state-branded ‘negative’ media organs, has a totally different of view of the law.
He says he is not surprised any more, “I survived death at government security agents. I have survived the economic freeze they officially put on our three newspapers (Umuvugizi, Umuseso and Rugari) in the February 2008 government retreat and the use of the law to kill them cannot surprise me at all,” he said.
Gasassira claims he did not receive the Media High Council letter and does not see any sense in the controversial article. He says, the new media law was supposed to add to the missing link in the old law but not to nullify all the provisions.
“My media house is legally registered according to the requirement of the media law then in place and I don’t see any need of registering it again. They should instead tell me to submit what they think is lacking but not repeat the whole registration process, otherwise I am waiting for whatever they intend to do to us,” Gasasira says.
Yet some argue that Gasasira’s stance is unnecessarily obstinate, since new laws usually repeal the old ones to avoid conflict.
Gasasira claims that one member of the parliamentary political committee whom he did not want to identify told him that government wanted to use the law to suppress some media organs before it was passed.
Gasasira says while the government has maintained a financial freeze on independent media and coerced private business not advertise with them, it still requires them to have a registered publishing company which will pay taxes.
“Recently the minister of Finance and Economic Planning officially announced that government institutions would not advertise any more in the media yet government is the big advertiser. Private institutions cannot advertise with us because they fear for their businesses. So why do they want us to become business entities if we are not doing any business?” he wondered.
Didas Gasana, managing editor of Umuseso weekly that is similarly under financial freeze, says his organization is a registered business entity and that his media house has all the requirements needed by the Media High Council. But he decries the timre limit given to other small media organizations to meet the requirements.
“I wouldn’t have any problem submitting those requirements as RIMEG but am not ready to write an application letter and submit what I submitted when I registered the first time,” Gasana said.
He said his worry and what would hold him back from respecting the council’s demand, is the need to consider those who need to organize those requirements.
When the law was still under discussion, diplomats from big donors like the US and UK urged the government to promote media freedom and not suppress it.
Patrice Murama, the Executive Secretary of the Media High Council says the extension of the deadline was meant for media organs to organize the requirements and if necessary hire the personnel needed.
He sees no problem with the media law saying journalists took time to study the law and raised any queries they had and registration was never a problem. He wonders why they now see it as a burden.
“What is the problem with registering and submitting the requirements if the media organs really exist. The unfortunate bit is that many lack the structures required by the law yet we need serious media organs with physical address, contact persons, editorial policy, and regular according to their registered periodicity.” he said.
Just a handful of media houses are capable of meeting the requirements, all pro-government. Media observers predict that only about five publications may be left on the Kigali streets in the near future, one in French, two in local languages, and two in English. The rest will die an unnatural death.