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Rwanda is no US when it comes to press freedom – but it's also no Somalia

Rwanda got a bit of a raw deal to be ranked near the bottom of Reporters Without Borders' annual press freedom list this year, says guest blogger Jina Moore.

By Jina MooreGuest blogger / October 20, 2010

Activists from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Amnesty International hold a banner which reads "Russia, freedom murdered" during a demonstration to commemorate the death of anti-Kremlin Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya at Trocadero near the Eiffel Tower in Paris October 6, 2010. Politkovskaya, 48, who reported extensively on the conflict in Chechyna, was shot dead in the lift of her apartment at Moscow in 2006.

Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

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Kigali, Rwanda

The press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is bound to cause a stir among Rwanda-watchers. The Paris-based group called Rwanda among the 10 worst violators of press freedom in the world, right along with North Korea, Burma and Iran. It’s also the third-worst in Africa; only Eritrea, where there basically aren’t any journalists who aren’t in jail, and Sudan are worse. Even Somalia ranks better than Rwanda.

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I’m not sold. Here’s why.

Let’s get the genre objections out of the way first. I’m not a big believer in indices. They usually feel more like media gimmicks than analytical tools to me. But everybody loves lists – and sometimes, people like to be on them. Show me a list with an air-tight methodology, and I’ll call you a liar. (The RSF methodology seems to me pretty wanting, but if you’re the same kind of nerd as I am, you’ll check out their questionnaire, scoring sheet, and sparse methodological explanation and decide for yourself if you’re satisfied.)

But let’s talk specifics.

RSF alleges that in Rwanda, "journalists are fleeing the country because of the repression, in an exodus almost on the scale of Somalia's.” I’m no naïf, but this is laughable. Journalists fleeing Somalia are fleeing very real, dangerous and ongoing violence. Also, by the by, what’s going on in the media space for journalists who stay in Somalia? “The two leading Islamist militias, Al-Shabaab and Hizb-Al-Islam, are gradually seizing control of independent radio stations and using them to broadcast their religious and political propaganda.” That is to say, a ongoing and overt seizure by a fundamentalist religious government of all media space in order to push propaganda. Remember when they also banned music on the radio in Mogadishu? Yeah, me too.

Whatever you think of Kagame, Kigali is no Mogadishu. Even exiled journalists who don’t like the current government concede that 40 percent of the media here is privately owned. What RSF’s press materials don’t talk about – and what its methodology does not convince me it has any idea how to measure (even though it claims to account for this) – is self-censorship. But because the variable is far from robust (which is really too bad), I’m going to ignore it.

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