The Eastern Africa EditorsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ Forum has reacted angrily to the banning of
BBC's Kinyarwanda broadcasts in Rwanda, terming it a dictatorial move
that shows continued intolerance for divergent views in the region,
writes Dennis Itumbi for journalism.co.za.
David Makali, the director of the Media Development Institute, told Contact FM in Rwanda, "Even if the government has a legitimate complaint on any issue regarding media coverage there is a way to go about it, you do not rush to switch off stations."
Makali's views were supported by Ssemujju Ibrahim Nganda, the coordinator of the Ugandan EditorsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ Forum, who said, "Press freedom is not merely the existence of free speech but the free room for people to make mistakes."
Both of them took issue with the fact that the government did not exhaust all options including the courts in pursuing their case before pulling off BBC off the air.
"Journalism in the region is facing a systematic attack by countries posing as modern day governments, but secretly sponsoring laws against press freedom, oppressive regulation mechanisms for a free media, outdated official secret's acts and discriminative criminal prosecution procedures and nowÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â a new method, switch off what you do not like without the chance for fair hearing…" Makali said.
The Rwandan government has since demanded "guarantees of responsible journalism" from the BBC.
"We have suspended all BBC programmes in Kinyarwanda because they had become a real poison with regards to the reconciliation of the Rwandan people," Information Minister Louise Mushikiwabo was quoted as having told a media briefing in Kigali, Rwanda.
"We could no longer tolerate that," she said. "The Rwandan government shall protest strongly, until the BBC can give us guarantees of responsible journalism."
The dispute centres on interviews aired on a weekly programme, "Imvo n'Imvano," (The Heart of the Problem), which Mushikiwabo said were "liable" to undermine efforts at national unity and reconciliation.
During the programme, Radio Rwanda said, former Prime Minister Faustin Twagiramungu, who now lives in exile in Belgium, said that as a Hutu, he could never give in to Tutsi demands to apologize for the 1994 genocide.
The BBC's website Sunday said that the programme's editor denied there had been any bias and said that Kigali had declined an offer to include a government spokesman.
The editor, Ally Mugenzi, said the difficulties had arisen because of the interpretation which the government was putting on the genocide. The United Nations estimates that 800,000 people were killed during the 100-day carnage, mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus.