Rwandan journalists red-faced after learning of top arrest from Ugandan media

Chimpreports news website Thursday reported about alleged arrest of Dennis Karera, leaving many journalists in Rwanda wondering how and why they should be getting such news from Uganda first.

MEDIA | A news report about alleged detention of a top Rwandan businessman by authorities in Kigali has left media practitioners in the south-western country grim-faced.

Chimpreports, a Ugandan news portal, Thursday published an article that said that Karera had been arrested on July 25 and that his whereabouts remains unknown to even his relatives.

Quoting an unnamed ‘close friend of the family,’ the news website said Karera was being investigated over a business deal. The article did not delve into the detail of the said business deal.

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“All we were told is that security operatives picked him. He must be detained in a safe house,” the website quoted an anonymous source.

The article alleges that Karera was picked up by agents from Rwanda Investigations Bureau but neither the bureau nor Rwanda National Police could confirm the allegations.

However, the report left Rwandan journalists red-faced since Chimpreports published what is otherwise hanging on their nose, smelling yet not so strong enough to elicit that courage to get to behind the story.

An editor at The New Times newspaper told Crime24 that they had only just learnt of the allegation from Chimpreports.

“We are still trying to verify but I am also just seeing the story,” the editor said.

“I don’t know if the story is accurate, but It is disappointing of course. We should be able to get these stories first but we are suffering from a phobia for information across the country,” said another senior journalist in Kigali, who asked not to be named.

Edmund Kagire, a reporter with The East African newspaper and RwandaTodayAfrica, tweeted about the embarrassment occasioned by a Rwandan journalist like himself first reading about such a top news information from foreign media.

“Moment of self reflection for us as the media in #Rwanda and also as country. How is this kind of information peddled to #Uganda before it gets to us?” Kagire posed.

Another reporter with The East African told this news website that there appears to be some gaps in news gathering and relationship between journalists in Rwanda with the authorities.

“Uganda media like Chimpreports, and The Standard [Kenya] are embarrassing us, they have insiders who feed them information but when we ask they always say ‘we don’t have info,'” the journalist said.

The reporter, who asked not to be named as the matter is a bit sensitive, said pointed to the fact that such news reports never quote official sources.

“Strange that those guys are always off record and given fact that here there is no tabloid here, we will always follow the bus,” the reporter said, adding that ethics ethics and ‘stuff’ keep us behind.

But Gonzaga Muganwa, secretary general of Rwanda Journalists Association, does not see why the Rwandan journalists should whine about news running outside their borders first.

He said media nowadays is online and can be reached anywhere, so it doesn’t matter where it is based.

The Chimpreports story comes after the recent ones when the media in Uganda, including Chimpreports, reported about a new rebel movement launching armed struggle against the government of Paul Kagame.

Sources in Kigali say the story had not yet found a place in the media in Rwanda when Ugandan media published.

Days later, The Standard published and later pulled down a story that alleged that President Museveni had been in touch with fugitive Rwandan blogger David Himbara, a vicious critic of President Kagame who opposes virtually everything the Kigali administration does from the comfort of his home in Toronto, Canada.

But what is the problem?

The alleged arrest and detention of Karera, who owns Park View Courts in the plush suburb of Nyarutarama, Kigali, and the adjacent residence of the Ugandan High Commissioner, is a big indictment on the part of Rwandan media practitioners.

Whichever side of the coin, allegations that a businessman like Karera could be arrested and detained for a full week without the knowledge of the media means they are either easy to keep in the dark, or that self-censorship has eaten too deep in their bone marrows already.

If not these, then it can only be a false story since, if Karera returned home tomorrow and later addressed the media denying he was ever arrested, then the Rwandan journalists would feel vindicated.

For this article, the majority of the journalists who spoke to Crime24 asked not to be named while others, including senior editors and media managers did not revert to us.

“Most journalists here always have the stories but they cannot write until they are told to do so,” said another, again asking not to be named.

Edward Ojulu, a journalist and former editor at New Times, Rwanda Focus and The Independent Rwanda, also blames the issue on the “timid journalists,”

“These guys are not confident enough to write about what everybody can see. The journalists here are involved in unprecedented self-censorship, fearing to write about even pro-government articles,” Ojulu said.

However, Muganwa feels the state of affairs is not enough for the world to hang the Rwanda journalists to dry, arguing that some media outlets, depending on ownership and editorial policy, can not touch certain issues like quoting the exiled opposition.

“Also some stories are not verifiable, like this Karera story, since police or RIB [Rwanda Investigations Bureau] is not confirming, some outlets don’t speculate, editorial standards matter,” Mugangwa said.

Media experts would say that it calls for caution and more fact finding and verification where a news story relies on unofficial sources since a reporter will have to ask themselves the million dollar question: ‘what if the person alleged to be under arrest comes out and declares they were never ever arrested?’

Such has happened before. In 2012, Idriss Gasana Byiringiro, a journalist working with The Chronicles, a weekly English newspaper, admitted to faking his own kidnap as part of research for a story.

Muganwa challenged Rwandan journalists to rise to the occasion and be counted as journalists who really gather news and not wait to be fed.

“Rwandan journalists questioning, they should stop censoring themselves, sources will come to them. It’s all about sourcing,” he said.

In response to Kagire’s tweet, Muganwa advanced reasons why a story like that of Karera’s alleged arrest could find its placed in Ugandan media first, including that sources have to believe one will publish the information and protect their identity.

Which would explain why Chimpreports could be entrusted with such a sensitive news at the expense of Rwandan journalists.

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