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The digital shift

By kabona esiara

Rwanda switches to digital broadcasting in January 2011

The National Bureau for Information (ORINFOR) monopoly on the television broadcast industry in Rwanda has come to an end.

By next year, a second signal distributor for terrestrial digital broadcast network will be licensed. The development brings in competition in a country that knows only ORINFOR, a public broadcaster.three years earlier than the worldwide deadline set by the International Telecommunications Union, which requires all countries to move to digital by 2015.

Inviting the private investors in the TV industry comes when indications are high that Rwanda is ready to switch to digital broadcasting.

Rwanda will become the second East African Country after Kenya to switch to digital signal. Kenya switched to digital broadcasting last year and is in advanced stages to completely switch off analogue broadcasting, giving the country leverage over the rest of East African member states in using advanced broadcast technology.

Media reports quote the Rwandan Chairman of the Broadcasting Council, Godfrey Mutabazi, as saying Uganda may not beat the 2015 digitalisation deadline largely due to a delay by the cabinet in approving the relevant policy instruments.

The Draft Digital Migration Policy on Digital Terrestrial Television Broadcasting in Uganda had set December 31 this year as the switch-off date for analog broadcasting.

In Rwanda, when digital broadcasting is switched on, engineers at ORINFOR say the viewers will receive better quality pictures and sound as well as multiple channels.

Ignatius Kabagambe, Director General, Ministry of Information, says in Rwanda, a maximum of two signal distributors are allowed to operate.

The second operator will have to invest in a countrywide infrastructure that will facilitate coverage of most parts of the country.

One signal licence was awarded to ORINFOR, while the second licence is to be issued through an open international competitive bidding process, says Kabagambe.

Patrice Mulama, Executive Secretary Media High Council, the regulative body of the media industry in Rwanda, says the private sector has already shown interest in the second signal distributor licence.

Some investors who have made inquiries about investing in television in Rwanda, according to Mulama, include Nation Media Group, Tele 10, Star Times.

However, Mulama says the investors have not committed themselves.

Currently Rwanda has 20 radio stations. Government owns one national broadcaster and four community radios in all the four regions of Rwanda.

Mulama revealed that four radios are foreign and the majority are owned by the private sector.

As government liberalises the TV, the print media is another area which Rwanda believes has not been fully exploited.

In Rwanda print media is dogged by publications which open but rarely celebrate their first anniversary. The few on the streets are irregular to the chagrin of advertisers and readers. To quench the thirst for news most readers in Rwanda have resorted to foreign publications.

“Ugandan newspapers reach Rwandan market earlier than the Rwandan ones,” says Eugene Gendahayo, a Kigali newspaper vendor. “Rwandan papers are irregular.”

In most offices in Rwanda, regional news papers including, the East African, New Vision and Daily Monitor and foreign magazines are more visible than the local ones. These regional papers are competing with the 31 papers registered in Rwanda.

“There are opportunities virtually in all media sectors including in print, electronic and online publications,” Kabagambe says.

Kabagambe believes that with good sustainable capital, high circulation figures and content, whoever invests in the media in Rwanda is bound to break even in a short period.

“Have good content and high circulation and advertisers will book space,” he says. “No advertiser will spend his money when he knows the paper does not circulate.”

The Rwandan government has come up with incentives to attract investments in the media industry with support from development partners.

Some of the incentives include training  journalists both locally and outside the country.

As members of the Commonwealth, Rwanda’s journalist have started to gain from training opportunities. Some journalists have returned from training in India and the UK, while others attend courses in the Great Lakes Media Centre based in Kigali City.

According to Kabagambe, the government also invested in a modern printing press to help the private media houses that have been spending money printing in Uganda and Kenya and Dubai.

However, numerous issues for Rwanda’s media continue. James Munyaneza, of the Rwanda Journalist Association, sites problems of payment. “A good number of journalists know no monthly remuneration, and their ‘employers’ don’t remit pension savings and health insurance contributions for their ‘staff’,” says Munyaneza.

To survive, according to Munyaneza, the journalists have settled for discreet bribery in return for media coverage. Others walk from hotel to hotel in search for ‘free lunch’ in conferences.

However, Munyaneza is positive that much respect for the profession can be gained through a plan to transform the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) into a trade union.

“If the majority of journalists go on to subscribe to the planned body,” says Munyaneza, “the Rwanda Journalists Union (RJU), will have a greater bargaining power to demand for fairer and relatively conducive working conditions from their employers.”

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