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Practicing journalism and free expression is a right provided for in the country’s constitution but it should not impede the rights of others, members of the media heard on Wednesday.

Addressing journalists attending the training on ‘Freedom of Expression and Media Offences’, city lawyer Valery Gakunzi reminded practitioners that although Article 38 of the constitution states that freedoms of expression and access to information are rights, they should be practiced within the set laws.

“The constitution guarantees rights to both freedom of expression and access to information but is also clear that these rights should not impede public order, good morals, protection of the young and  the right of every citizen to honour and dignity and protection of personal and family privacy,” he reminded.

The training was organised by the Legal Aid Forum.

He added that besides few inherent freedoms like the right not to be tortured under any circumstance, most others have legal limitations.

He reminded the journalists that the stories that they are covering should look out for the legality, proportionality and necessity parameters.

Challenge institutions

Gakunzi challenged the journalists to take any public institution that denies them information to court.

“The judiciary is the custodian of the Constitution. It is their job to protect the rights and civil liberties of the citizens as guaranteed by the constitution. It is not enough to complain. Anyone who feels frustrated for being denied their rights should take the institution responsible to court,” he said.

The Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) Emmanuel Mugisha agreed.

He said that the blame-game between institutions and journalists has been ongoing for a while and invited the latter to take up what they consider the infringement of their rights to the courts of law.

“When we sit here, the complaints are the same all the time. If speaking out has not been enough, perhaps taking these matters to court is the better option,” he said.

Commendable steps

The Head of Development Cooperation at the European Union Rwanda office, Lluis Navarro commended the efforts the government has put into improving the legal framework around freedom of expression and access to information.

“Access to information is guaranteed in the Constitution. This right is also reflected in the 2013 Access to Information Law, which has been recognised as solid and progressive legislation,” he said.

However, he pointed out that there is still work that needs to be done to improve awareness among the public, as well as with authorities in order to implement and enforce the legislation.

“Despite the improvement in the legal framework, we note some persistent reports on instances of self-censorship and curtailed freedom of expression. Such issues can ultimately limit accountability, which is key to sustainable development,” he said.

The open discussion training is organised by the Legal Aid Forum (LAF) and is bringing together journalists, judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators to explore different topics on media freedom, its limitations as well as how to deal with media related offences. - Nasra Bishumba, The New Times

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