OPENING REMARKS OF THE ONE UN RESIDENT COORDINATOR Mr. Lamin M. Maneh Turning the Page on Hate Media in Africa (May 6, 2016, Serena Hotel, Kigali)

May 6, 2016

The Honourable Minister of Local Government

The CEO of Rwanda Governance Board,

Representatives of the Diplomatic Corps

Senior Government Officials,

Dear Members of the Press

Ladies and gentlemen,

All protocols observed,

Mwaramutse neza

I am very happy to be here with you at the opening ceremony of this important event when we mark the celebrations of the World Press Freedom day in Rwanda.

I believe that your presence here is a testimony of how the media are increasingly becoming part and parcel of our daily lives. The fact that we depend on the media to access a variety of information on important aspects of our lives as business, politics, sports, agriculture, and others, illustrates the growing central role of the media into our lives. This is not only self-evident, it is a matter of fact.

However, as the UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon, has stated, “Each year, we observe World Press Freedom Day to emphasize these fundamental principles, to protect the independence of the media and to honour media workers who risk and have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession”. In reiterating this message, I would like to commend the women and men of the press in Rwanda for the commendable job you are doing in not only informing, but also providing the channels for exchange of ideas and opinions. I would also like to commend you for having enacted your own Code of Ethics as a gesture and commitment to responsibility and quality news. Your commitment to professionalism and independence is commendable. I would also like to extend my gratitude to the presence of various colleagues from the region, who bring their comparative experience to the table today.

In spite of this important work that you are doing however, we cannot lose sight of the fact that the media have the potential to do good as much as to do harm. This is, unfortunately, also a matter of fact. No other country than Rwanda is a better testimony of this fact.

Given the devastating effects of hate speeches in the history of this country, it is of utmost moral necessity that we all guard against the practice. This was vigorously espoused by President Kagame earlier this year while delivering an address at the Harvard Institute of Politics, when he asserted: “Rwandans value a politics based on inclusion and accountability, Rwandans value public spaces free of hate speech, Rwandans value unity”.  Indeed, politics based on inclusion and accountability, public spaces free of hate speech and unity are the key instruments that have made Rwanda become what it is to date.

Worldwide, driven by new technologies, business models and changing consumption practices, the media have too often abandoned their core function of promoting human values and social cohesion.

The theme for today’s event is therefore very pertinent- turning the page on hate media in Africa. While we celebrate the critical role of the media in our societies, it is also important to guard against its misuses.

Some two years ago, you held a similar dialogue here in Kigali, during which you noted the increasing tendency of media on platforms, especially online platforms, to sensationalise information and to use stereotypes and clichés which reinforce the conditions in which hate speech can flourish.

You also committed yourselves to launching a campaign, Turning the Page of Hate Media in Africa, with the aim of promoting ethical tolerant and inclusive journalism, good media governance and responsible communications across the open information landscape.

These are very commendable efforts by the media practitioners yourselves because it implies that you fully understand that practices such as hate speech have no place in human societies. Hate speech should never be confused with the freedom of expression. Hate speech not only serves to break the common bonds of humanity, but also discredits the important role that platforms of information play in our lives.

At the One UN, we have been very actively supporting the media reforms in Rwanda. Some of the milestones of these reforms are the passing of the law regulating the media which introduced media self-regulation, the passing of the access to information law, the conversion of the former state broadcaster into a public service broadcaster, and the change of the mandate of Media High Council from statutory regulation to capacity building of the media. In this process we have worked with various partners such as the Rwanda Governance Board, the Media High Council and the Rwanda Media Commission, through the support of the Embassy of Sweden. The UN also support assessments such as the Rwanda Media Barometer with the aim of informing policy making and legislation in Rwanda but also provide substance for more dialogue among the different media stakeholders.

Obviously there are still challenges.  There is need for further investment in developing the capacities of both journalists and media institutions to fully take advantage of their central place in our lives. Professionalism and economic sustainability are constant threats to our achievements in this sector.  I also know that the challenge of regulating online communications is still a world-wide problem. These are the conversations that must continue and should define the focus of our work.

We remain fully committed to continue working hand in hand with all stakeholders involved towards fostering a thriving media industry.

I look forward to your dialogue during today's event and to listen to your ideas on how we can all work together towards preventing hate speech while at the same time, underlining the importance of professional and independent media.

Murakoze Cyane!

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