Media Watch

Rwanda media regulator accuses Ishema publisher of blackmail and diversion

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From L-R, Arthur Assimwe, the Rwanda media high council boss and Patrice Mulama, the executive secritary

By Robert Mugabe

rmugabe@greatlakesvoice.com

Amidst continuing controversy, the publisher of bimonthly paper Ishema, Fidele Gakire has been accused by state owned media regulatory body Media High Council (MHC), of “blackmail” and running “malicious baseless accusations against the institution aiming to run-away from his responsibility.”

“It is unfortunate that any member of the media fraternity can attempt to make capital out of lies and blackmail instead of concentrating on finding solutions to public concerns against the publication.”  a Media High Council statement reads.

Ishema a vernacular paper in Kigali has been in headlines ever since it ran a controversial opinion piece in mid-July that called President Paul Kagame a “sociopath.”

Issue No 24 of 22 July to 05 August 2011 of Ishema newspaper, carried an article dubbed a research finding on the personal character of President Paul Kagame.

The article originally published by a blog (http://anonymouse.org/cgi-bin/anon-www.cgi://www.africandictator.org/?p=3158) with the title “Kamikazi strategy for defeating dictator Kagame” was simply copied and pasted into Ishema newspaper and ran as their own piece without even attributing the source.

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.

last Monday , the paper management announced suspending its edition for a month claiming MHC threats and mobilizing residents to ally against the publication.

“The way I see the mess of this young man is that, He (Gakire) is running a smear campaign against the Media High Council. Gakire is misleading and diverting public opinion from his responsibility which he accepted and apologized for” Patrice Mulama, the executive secretary of MHC told Great Lakes Voice.

According to Mulama, Ishema publisher is in the footsteps of other journalists who fled the country. “When he published the defamatory story against the President of the Republic, He expected to be arrested by police, and for his surprise he saw opposite. His agenda will not yield anything to him.”

Fidel Gakire, the publisher of Ishema told this publication that the threats he encountered were basing on the letter that MHC sent to him warning and accused his paper of ‘defamation’, ‘slander’ and ‘plagiarism’ plus the petitions from certain residents.

“Mulama sent me a letter warning me about the story I had apologized for. Accusing me of serious offences, giving copies to sensitive offices and personalities that appeared intimidating, Remember the petition was signed  by more than 1500” Gakire said.

After Ishema announced it was suspending publication, International media activists’ body, Reporters Without Boarders (RWB) reacted by questioning the state of freedom of the press in the country.

Ishema’s decision reflects the unease that independent publications often feel in Rwanda,” Reporters Without Borders said.

In the interview, Mulama said that MHC can’t have time to mobilize people to petition against Gakire. “Gakire was called by a junior staff about the threats, and he told him that he was anticipating threats. That’s not how things work. His claims are unfounded; claims that we shall not waste time about it,” Mulama added.

MHC statement reminded the paper of professional implications and that gross violations of the law and professional code of ethics is the MHC responsibility and the institution shall not be threatened or cajoled by blackmail and lies of Ishema newspaper or anybody else with sinister goals.

The MHC called upon Gakire Fidel to take public concerns expressed through the said petitions and different forums seriously and to concentrate on finding lasting solutions to his paper’s unprofessionalism rather than trying to blackmail the MHC.

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