a fundamental human right
Reporter Alexander Panetta did an excellent job covering the press freedom issue in Rwanda, in the context of Canadian Governor-General Michaelle Jean's Thursday speech. Jean spoke in Butare to a crowd of about 700 students:
"Free media is a fundamental human right," Jean said.
"It is one of those pivotal rights that is crucial to your realization of a host of other human rights in any society: freedom of expression, the right to democratic elections, even the right to a fair and public hearing."
Canada and Rwanda have both subscribed to those obligations through membership in the UN, la Francophonie, and the Commonwealth, she continued.
"It is incumbent on our governments to make sure they are all fully respected."
...Rwanda's government calls divisive speech unacceptable as it struggles to build a united country. Sixteen years after hate radio fuelled a genocide, any reference to Hutu or Tutsi clans is strongly discouraged. Remarks deemed a threat to national stability are treated as a criminal offence.
...But Jean took a veiled swipe at the notion that the 1994 atrocities might still be a reason to limit fundamental freedoms. She warned the audience against becoming "captive" to history.
"You have to move forward. We all have ghosts in our past that send a chill down our spine," Jean said.
"There is a responsibility of the profession as well, to exorcise the fear around us and move on."
...President Paul Kagame expressed exasperation when the issue came up at a news conference this week with Canadian journalists, in the presence of Jean.
"Why do people keep talking (about this)?" Kagame said.
"You're talking about two (newspapers). But you have almost 20 independent privately owned radios - FM radios and other radio. You have close to 70 papers. . .
"Maybe these two actually are the ones in the wrong - not the 67 (papers), not the 20 private radios."
However, international observers argue that much of what's left of the country's media has deep ties to the government and is essentially subservient to it.
On the day the president met Jean, the country's leading paper carried a front-page photo of him under the headline: "Kagame launches new book." That day's editorial was titled, "National Police Force a Success Story."
...When one Canadian panellist, Ben Peterson, asked for a show of hands from students who supported the move, fewer than two dozen people in the audience of 700 raised their arms.
The crowd burst out laughing when an official with Rwanda's Media High Council described the regulatory body as arm's-length from the government. He explained that the timing of the suspension, which came on the same day that Kagame publicly denounced the papers, was purely coincidental.