Interview with Mr Remy Maurice Ufitinema
Winner of the Media for Labour Rights in Rwanda prize for journalism, in the framework of the ITCILO project on “Awareness-raising and capacity-building on human rights in Rwanda, with an emphasis on labour rights”, co-funded by the European Union
Awarded the prize for his article Maternity leave: Rwandan women workers divided between reason and health, Remy Maurice Ufitinema currently serves as news editor for Rwanda Television.
Why did you become a journalist and what do you love about your job?
When I was a child, I liked listening to the radio: news, mainly sport, international sport. I liked it very much and I decided to become a journalist. I was born in the countryside, and I liked people telling stories about my home, far away from the country’s capital where the radio stations are based. I grew to love that profession, and I wanted to become a journalist. When I finished university, some positions in national television were advertised; I applied, passed the exam and got the job. So my dream came true in 2007. I decided to be a tool to change people’s lives. I compare my job to being a doctor who prescribes medicines to patients. In our society there are problems and the role of the journalist is to find and propose solutions to those problems. Moreover, he also has to set a good example, indicating the way things should be done, like a doctor when he gives prescriptions.
Are you ever faced with the ethical dilemma of being a spectator covering a story when you could have helped out in a situation? How did you resolve it?
I might mention a case in 2012. I was in the countryside, reporting on people who did not have decent housing. They lived in grass-thatched houses, houses with grass roofs, but the local authority thought they had already solved the problem for all the families in that area. I informed them that there were still families living in these houses, and after a month those families were given new housing. By drawing attention to people’s problems, you can ensure the authorities discover these problems and provide solutions, giving communities a better future. This article was also instrumental in my career because I was awarded a prize.
Stephen King said, “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write.” How do you prepare for your news stories?
I have a degree in English literature, which is mainly about reading other people’s writing. I like reading. Every morning I read as much as I can: news about my country, news about the rest of the world. And when I cannot read, I listen to the news on the radio or watch it on TV. I do research and thoroughly study every subject I want to write about or tell people about. My background, my willingness to learn more and more, together with the fact I am perseverant, are all important in my job.
What about this competition, competing with other journalists for a story and for an international experience on a subject you feel close to?
We took part in a training activity in Rwanda, where we learned a lot, especially about labour rights. I liked the training because it brought something new to me. I learned that the way we approached labour-related stories was not appropriate, because we lacked certain information. The training taught us how to approach labour-related stories, especially as far as promotion, ratification and application are concerned. In our country, for instance, the ILS on maternity leave is not ratified. I knew it was an interesting issue, because my country has done a lot to promote women: in fact, women represent 65 per cent of the parliamentary presence. Take the history of Rwanda, and the genocide during which 1 million people were exterminated in 100 days. Now Rwanda is committed to doing things because too many years were wasted, and the country wants to move forward quickly. We are making comprehensive progress. Women are going to school, gaining important positions, in government and elsewhere. At the moment there is a debate on maternity leave: I want to show that there is an internationally recognised solution, a standard adopted by an organization that brings together all the parties involved – governments, workers and employers. I wanted to talk about this, because this offers a solution that may help the country.
Besides the possibility of participating in an international training activity, I believe this prize was for you an opportunity to shed light on a problem in your country. How do you think you have contributed to its solution? Why do you care about this issue?
It’s not just about personal reasons: I’m also thinking about my country. Many events and debates are taking place, but nobody thinks of the Convention, which could provide a solution. As a human being, I understand this is an issue for women and families, because if you lose 80 per cent of your salary, that’s a big issue.
Do you think of yourself as a human rights defender?
I like stories related to social issues. When I was a reporter I was promoted to the post of news editor. During my years as a reporter, I talked about social issues, people with problems, poverty, and I was asking for solutions. I like social justice, living as I do in a poor country. What can we do to move forward quickly? There are obstacles, of course, but by working together we can make it. In my country they are now talking of a maternity fund, a common solution.
Can you tell our readers something about your experience now on this course?
I also participated in the first edition in Rwanda and I can confirm that these training activities are instrumental to understanding and writing correctly on labour-related stories. We are informed with appropriate data, references, sources, information, and we learn that a labour-related story is not interesting if it does not incorporate the human aspect.
In your opinion, can this training be recommended to other journalists?
Very much so, as we do not know everything… And here we learn a great deal more!
The prize is intended to spread information on international labour standards and the work of the international supervisory bodies in Rwanda by raising public awareness of internationally recognized human rights at work and their relevance to local social and development issues. The prize consisted in a grant to attend an international training course for journalists and media professionals held by the Centre.