The media sector in Rwanda is still very young and struggles with serious deficits. In order to do justice to its role and recognition as the “fourth power”, the still very weak structures and the inadequate staffing and financial resources must be significantly improved.
In 2013 the media law was reformed. The previous media law from 2009 had a generally more restrictive effect on press work, among other things. For example, it stipulated that journalists were only allowed to carry out their work with an appropriate degree or certificate, a restriction that has now been lifted.
New approaches include the introduction of self-regulation mechanisms. Media actors hope that this will result in less state control. The controversial role of the former dominant Media High Council (MHC), an association regulatory authority, has been redefined. Until then, the MHC had sovereignty over media regulation in the country, including the accreditation of journalists and licensing of media houses, as well as responsibility for the promotion and protection of media freedom and independence. The independence of the institution has been called into question, however, as it is seen as a stooge of the ruling party RPF. Today the core task of the MHC is in the area of capacity building, with the focus on building a more professional journalism. The current media legislation, if implemented consistently, has the potential to significantly improve the framework conditions in the media landscape.
According to ehealthfacts, Rwanda’s media landscape includes a state and a dozen private television stations, around 35 radio stations and around 30 and 50 online and print media, respectively. The former ORINFOR (Office Rwandais d’Information), a state press agency, was restructured from 2011 to the Rwanda Broadcasting Agency (RBA). Since 2013, the new broadcasting agency has been operating Radio Rwanda (a VHF and KW program) as well as state television, in the written area, the weekly IMVAHO NSHYA (only on Kinyarwanda) and the fortnightly newspaper NOUVELLE RELEVE.
The newspaper with the highest circulation is, alongside IMVAHO NSHYA, the military newspaper INGABO (monthly). The oldest newspaper in Rwanda, the Catholic newspaper Kinyamateka, has now ceased to appear. The main opposition newspapers are UMUSESO and UMUCO.
The government-affiliated daily The New Times dominates in English. The media platforms IGIHE and Kigali Today are popular, each of which has both a print edition and an extensive multimedia range. The Chronicle, Newsline and Focus are also published weekly. Grands Lacs Hebdo is also published weekly in French. The press agency RNA (Rwanda News Agency) publishes press dispatches daily.
The international radio stations Deutsche Welle, RFI, BBC and Voice of America can be received in Kigali via VHF.
The Internet is also playing an increasingly important role as an information medium in Rwanda. In recent years, access to information and communication technologies (ICT), and thus the availability and access to information, has improved in Rwanda. With the aim of developing an efficient information economy, the government has given priority to investments in the development of Internet infrastructure and other ICT. According to a 2018 report by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA), 47.8 percent of the population has internet access. Estimates by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) were lower and were 20 percent in 2017.
The freedom of the press in Rwanda is considered limited as strong in most observers. Violations of the freedom of the press and freedom of information have also been observed in the area of online media. Well-known non-governmental organizations, such as Reporters Without Borders, rank Rwanda far behind in a world comparison (155th place out of 180 in the 2020 press freedom ranking). Public reporting generally takes place in a strictly monitored room. To justify these restrictions, the government cites the effects of the smear campaigns in the media before and during the 1994 genocide. Back then had hate media, primarily the infamous broadcaster RTLM (Radio Television des Milles Collines), successfully contributed to mass mobilization with radical propaganda. At the same time, the Rwandan government is also accused of misusing the link between the restricted freedom of the press and genocide as a political instrument.
Local journalists who take a critical stance towards the government are generally treated with suspicion. There have been several cases of violence against journalists in the past . Especially in the run-up to the 2010 presidential elections, there were repeated massive restrictions on freedom of expression and media critical of the government were banned. For example, Umuseso and Umuvugizi, the former most widely read tabloid newspapers in the country, were banned from publication for alleged violations of media law and incitement to disrupt public order.