Africa News Bulletin

Rwanda: Is the crackdown on YouTubers over ‘abusive’ content justified?

Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) has warned YouTube content creators who publish material that is deemed ‘harmful’ saying they risk prosecution in courts of law.

The warning was issued by Thierry B Murangira the investigation body’s spokesperson last week while appearing on different talk shows.

Murangira said that up to 14 channels had been red-flagged, adding that the owners have been asked to delete the content that has been flagged as denigrating people with disabilities.

“RIB has identified all these YouTubers and we warn all people in general to desist from such online content that denigrates people with disabilities which they do under the guise of doing charity work,” he said.

He said that the warning was issued following a rise in the abuse of the rights of persons with disabilities, particularly by YouTubers.

They have been accused of exploiting people with disability in order for their content to get more viewers, which translates into more revenue.

Murangira said that in the event that the YouTubers will not comply with the order and refuse to delete the abusive contents, he said that the law will be enforced.

“Such abusive content against people with disabilities is a crime and it is punished by law,” he said.

In an interview with The New Times Innocent Muramira, a lawyer, said that it is unethical and illegal to exploit people with disability, adding that such content is not in public interest but rather the interest of the publisher.

Muramira said that much as Article 38 of the constitution provides for freedom of expression, Article 41 of the same legislation provides for limitations to the rights and therefore one cannot just post any content for money /monetary gain while infringing on other people’s rights.

He added that it is very important to connect disability issues with human dignity and rights.

The videos featuring different individuals with disabilities have sparked condemnation from the public prompting activists to call for action from authorities.

Just recently, the National Union of Disability Organisations of Rwanda (NUDOR) condemned the habit, arguing that such derogatory content was in violation of those with disability. They threatened to drag to court the YouTubers in case they continue making such interviews.

However, some content creators who spoke to The New Times disagreed, saying that featuring such people is a form of advocacy for them.

To back their reasoning, they point to the support that people with disability have received after their shows have been aired.

What are the standards?

According to YouTube’s community rules, any content that is deemed harmful will be pulled down and the channel risks being deleted or suspended.

Having an interview with a person with disability does not necessarily violate these community rules. However, the complaint about these particular interviews is that they ‘mock’ them with an aim of generating views.

Reports have shown that there are cases when scripts are written for them or money is paid for them to act in front of a camera.

Journalistically, it is unprofessional to pay sources to appear on camera or even tell them what to say during an interview.

But, with the proliferation of YouTube and other monetised social media platforms, professionalism is no longer a priority. Content creators focus more on generating views.

As a country that is built on a foundation of dignity, content creators will have a rough journey if they continue to denigrate individuals, especially the vulnerable members of society.

However, others opine that enforcing strict regulation may run a risk of stifling creativity, meaning that authorities and content creators will have to engage more on what is acceptable and where to draw the redline.

Speaking to The New Times, a content creator who preferred anonymity said that this is a big issue and kills the reputation of the media sector as well as the country at some point.

“It is a challenge,” he said after requesting to speak on condition of anonymity so that he could freely speak. “The spike in the number of monetised YouTube channels has triggered desperation among content creators where they will do everything possible to generate views with no regard to ethics and basic rights,” he said.

Adding that most of them have neither practiced nor studied journalism which sometimes explains their conduct.

The content creator, who is also a trained journalist gave an example of some interviews where the subjects are given drugs live on camera.

“Since it is hard to control such issues due to the growth of YouTube channels it’s the creator’s task to know where they draw the line. I personally there is a lot of content which can inspire and change people’s lives and which can generate those views,” he said.

Need for training

Commenting on this issue, Festus Irungu, a lecturer at Mount Kenya University said that there was need for training on ethics and human rights.

“For them to understand the legal and ethical requirements especially when it comes to interviewing the vulnerable like children and people with disabilities, because media – especially new media plays an important role in influencing public opinion and attitudes,” he noted.

Asked if the ethics related to content creation on YouTube was part of media studies in their curriculum, Irungu revealed that it’s taught during the online journalism course.

However, much needs to be done like strengthening the laws and ethics on emerging issues like new media reporting, he said.

Adding that journalists have to abide by ethical standards and do the right thing.

“They should report on disabilities especially to raise awareness of the challenges facing people with disabilities and issues surrounding disability, and factors that contribute to the exclusion and stigmatization of people with disabilities but within the ethical means”

Original story on The New Times

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