The publisher of the bimonthly Ishema, Fidèle Gakire, decided jointly with the newspaper’s board to suspend publication for a month on 28 August as a result of the serious threats he has reportedly been receiving. The newspaper has had problems ever since it ran an opinion piece in mid-July that called President Paul Kagame a “sociopath.”
“Ishema’s decision reflects the unease that independent publications often feel in Rwanda,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After being taken to task by the pro-government High Media Council, the newspaper apologized and its publisher was sanctioned. He has nonetheless continued to be the target of threats and a smear campaign and this has prompted him to temporarily suspend operations.”
Gakire quickly apologized after the High Media Council, the state-run media regulatory body, ruled that the reference to the president as a “sociopath” was libellous. The newspaper’s editor, Didas Niyifasha, resigned claiming the article was published without his knowledge. At the same time, the Forum of Private Newspapers suspended Gakire for six months as a member.
Gakire then lost no time in bringing out a special issue of Ishema with the word Imbabazi (Sorry) on the cover and virtually nothing inside but old articles praising the president which the newspaper had published in the past.
The authorities and pro-government journalists hailed Ishema’s reaction and praised media self-regulation.
But a member of the public complained to the High Media Council a few days later claiming he had been wronged by the newspaper. Then Ancilla Mukarubuga, a woman living in the Kigali district of Gasabo, said she had been shocked by articles published in Ishema and, in her neighbourhood, collected 1,500 signatures to a petition for sanctions against the newspaper. Finally, Gakire reported receiving serious threats in recent days.
A debate about media self-regulation is meanwhile under way in Rwanda and a new media law is being discussed in parliament. It would transfer responsibility for media regulation from the High Media Council to a panel of journalists. As first step to creating this self-regulatory body, Rwanda’s journalists have just adopted a new code of professional conduct.