3rd May 2015: The World Press Freedom Day 2015 was celebrated in Rwanda with a series of activities that included a football match between journalists and the Rwanda leadership club, paying tribute to journalists who lost their lives during the genocide against the Tutsi, and capped with a glamorous Development Journalism Award ceremony at which several journalists from different media houses won various awards.
Speaking earlier during the football match, the One UN Resident Coordinator, Mr Lamin Manneh, highlighted the growing interconnection between media freedom and other aspects of life, ranging from sports to democracy, governance, and development, which puts the media at the heart of society. He reiterated the message of the UN Secretary General about the media’s central role, that “Freedom of expression and press freedom are not luxury attributes that can wait until sustainable development has been achieved-– it is an enabler for the enjoyment of all human rights and, therefore, vital to good governance and the rule of law.” .
Under the banner of this year’s global theme, “Let Journalism Thrive! Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age”, journalists were treated to a colourful Award ceremony where excellence in journalism was celebrated and the best performing journalists in different categories were recognised and awarded various prizes that included cash and plaques. This event reflected the gains of the ongoing media reforms which have considerably contributed to media professionalism in Rwanda.
The ceremony was attended by over 200 journalists, senior Government officials, the private sector representatives, civil society representatives, development partners and members of diplomatic community. During the ceremony, 21 journalists were awarded prizes including the news coverage award for both print and electronic media, the investigative journalism award, the best talk show award and the journalist of the year award, among others. In total, there were seven categories of the awards.
The One UN Rwanda gave a Special Award to an ordinary citizen, Mr. Emmanuel Gitamburisho of Gikenke District, who has for over 25 years promoted a reading culture as well as access to information to rural citizens by collecting and distributing old newspapers to rural areas.
The award ceremony was also spiced by speeches from different personalities. Speaking during the ceremony, the Executive Secretary of the Association of Rwanda Journalists, Mr. Gonza Muganwa hailed the media reforms that have taken place in Rwanda and encouraged Journalists to take full advantage of the reforms in order to deliver better content to read. He however called for the decriminalization of all remaining media offences as a step forward in consolidating the media reforms.
On his part, the UNDP Country Director, Mr. Auke Lootsma, underscored the need to provide support to institutions that promote quality and professional journalism such as universities and training institutions, as well as peer-review mechanisms such as media self-regulation.
The CEO of RGB, Professor Anastase Shyaka, highlighted the growing interest in the awards, noting that the first awards three years ago had only 40 contestants, which has risen to 214 this year.
The Chairman of Rwanda Media commission, Mr. Fred Muvunyi, underscored the risks that journalists face in their work. Doing journalism, he said, “is not simply reporting stories. It is a search for truth that we must tell in those stories, and as such, it more often than not brings us into conflict with those that would want to suppress the truth”. He commended the media reforms in Rwanda but cautioned that their continued value lay in respecting the independence of institutions set up under the reforms
Representing the Government of Rwanda, the State Minister for Social Development and Community Affairs Dr. Alvera Mukabaramba reminded those present that the media reforms are not a one off event but a process and the journalists should be expecting further reforms as “ Rwanda is committed to free Media”. She commended Journalists for adhering to professional standards and emphasised the Government’s commitment “to improve the status of journalists and especially in regard to safety at work”.
The Journalist of the Year Award was won by Dean Karemera of the New Times, while the Lifetime Achievement Award went to Mr. Valens Rwamukwaya, who is Rwanda Broadcasting Agency’s longest serving cameraman.