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BBC back on air under strict conditions

(MI/IFEX) - The Rwanda government has lifted the two-month ban on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)'s Kinyarwanda-Kirundi program, but under strict conditions.

Announcing the change of decision on state radio on 22 June 2009, Rwanda's Minister of Information and government spokesperson Louise Mushikiwabo said that the BBC was expected to comply with an editorial line contained in an agreement signed after long negotiations.

"We have no reason to doubt them, we have put it in writing, and I think it is clear to the BBC administration after the 21 May meeting that should there be any problem leading back to the same issue that led to the closure of the FM transmission on Rwandan territory, we will not hesitate to completely end this program," Mushikiwabo cautioned.

She blamed the 'poisonous' programs on the local language directors saying she believed BBC was a professional media organisation that would not allow sectarian content on air.

The BBC's vernacular (Gahuzamiryango) service was banned on 25 April when it hosted people the government said deny and negate the 1994 genocide to debate the peace and reconciliation programs as part of the 15th anniversary commemoration.

Rwanda claimed the program has for long been used as a means to spread hatred but also acknowledged that the problem lies within the language barrier, which top BBC management cannot understand in order to make an independent judgement on violation of ethics.

BBC Gahuzamiryango went back on air in the evening of 23 June.

Local people interviewed lauded the move.

"Gahuzamiryango programs are constructive, the radio has lots of news and good debates on contemporary issues in our country, it also gives us alternative views from those of government officials when we get to hear other people's thoughts and ideas on topical issues," said Robert Mazimpaka, a resident of Kgali city. "Children love the drama of real life but when it comes to issues concerning peace, I think the BBC should understand the government's concern."

Others in the media, speaking anonymously, argued that the ban had taken an unnecessarily long time, depriving many of their rights to listen to the radio's programs. They argue that a ban on the program was wrong in the first place, as the government should have given priority to negotiations.

"The government has acted right, at long last. It has demonstrated that it is willing to engage constructively with its critics", said David Makali, director of The Media Institute in Kenya which monitors press freedom in the region.

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