Election Censorship: Campaign Posts Must Pass Through Electoral Body

Candidates in Rwanda’s August election have to seek approval from the electoral commission for each campaign message they craft, before posting it on social media platforms.

The National Electoral Commission (NEC) on Thursday said it had put in place a team of analysts to vet the requests.

“We have a media team that will receive messages and give feedback to the candidates. They will be charged with clearing the messages and telling the candidates that they can now send them on social media,” said Charles Munyaneza, NEC’s executive secretary.
Rwanda President Paul Kagame

The campaign posts requiring authorisation, include text, photographs and videos that aspirants wish to publish on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, WhatsApp, Instagram or on their websites, said Mr Munyaneza.

“The candidates will have to send their messages to our team 24 hours before the time they expect to post them – and then they give us another 24 hours to give them feedback.”

Mr Munyaneza said that the team comprises four individuals, but it could expand depending on the need.

Critics view this move by the NEC as censorship and bent towards curtailing any message that could besmirch the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party.

Frank Habineza, the flagbearer of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda (DGPR) – the only authorised opposition group – told The EastAfrican that his party would comply with the directive.

“We saw the instructions published on the official gazette. It is too late to change anything. We will comply,” he said.

A political analyst, who spoke to The EastAfrican on condition of anonymity, said the move could prevent candidates from expressing free speech and effectively criticising government policies.

“Independent candidates with little campaign money will probably need social media to get their message across. In the interest of fairness, citizens should be able to hear, read or watch uncensored messages from the candidates so that they make their own judgement,” the analyst said.

But Mr Munyaneza disagrees, saying the directive is a “necessary regulation when it comes to elections.”

“You have editors. Before you publish a news story, the editor must look at it first. So why shouldn’t we first look at the messages that people want to post on social media?” he posed to reporters who asked if the directive was not tantamount to censorship.

“You can’t say that your editors censor you. It is the same for us; we just want to make sure that the messages posted on social media are not poisoning people.” - The East African

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