Religion Missing From Rwandan News
By Aimable Twahirwa, Guest Contributor
KIGALI - Many new, independent newspapers emerged in the wake of Rwanda's liberalization in 1992, offering needed and extensive coverage of key topics in the country. But their dedication to neutrality and objectivity has come at the expense of covering religion in most aspects of life in the East African nation.
Rwandan journalists overlook the religious angle in their reporting in part because of newsroom policies, where editors and publishers typically believe it is necessary and important to separate religion from their daily work.
Even the Catholic church’s own media have chosen not to focus on conveying religious messages. Although “Kinyamateka” and “Dialogue, two monthly newspapers published by the Catholic Church, were among Rwanda’s first private media created in 1933, the news coverage religious events receive there varies widely.
Media are quick to cover religion, however, when it mixes with politics.
Though Rwanda is known for its constitutional provisions separating church and state, religious groups are very active in national politics. Because of the laws of the land and prevailing notions of democratic political process, which media value highly here, religious mobilization into politics is newsworthy.
Rwanda is a religious country. Most Rwandans belong to one of several Christian denominations, such as Roman Catholic, Anglican, Adventist, Baptist, and Presbyterian - along with a small Muslim population - that, apart from evangelizing, also mobilize their followers to support various government programs. The country's religiosity means that any government social-economic program that lacks participation and support of religious groups will struggle to be effective.
This political orientation, coupled with fierce competition among religious groups and sects for adherents, means religious voices in public life have become intense. So some leading media houses have begun reporting on how churches lobby the Rwandan government for the implementation of various socio-economic policies.
The Anglican and Catholic churches in Rwanda, for instance, have lobbied on abortion laws and social policies, including the condemnation of homosexuality. That elevated visibility has forced mainstream newsrooms to better understand and report on the political context for church activities.
A religion story Rwandan media enjoy covering is the "priestly role" of the country's current president Paul Kagame (pictured above). The national executive, for example, always presides over the annual National Prayer Breakfast that attracts around 500 high-ranking leaders to pray for the country and to discuss the "sowing seeds of excellence" in today and tomorrow's leaders.
Another significant problem driving media's lack of attention to religion is their ignorance of religion outside of the political realm. Editors of some news outlets believe most religious activities, when not connected to politics, are limited to evangelization efforts.
Rwandan media's failure to address religion in areas other than politics undercuts the purpose of news reporting in a developing nation, which is in part to help civil society and government function at their best. This oversight is especially a concern in light of Rwanda's current diversity of religious life.