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  1. The Governor General of Canada
  2. Her Excellency the Right Honourable Julie Payette
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Roundtable on the Role of Journalism - Rwanda

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Roundtable on the Role of Journalism in the Democratization Process

Butare, Rwanda, Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Canadian delegation accompanying me and I are happy to be here with young, dynamic Rwandans—young women and men, the women drummers who demonstrated their determination—to take part in a discussion on the role of journalism in a country that is rising from its ashes.

Right from the start, I would like to pay tribute to the hundreds of students who perished here as a result of brutal attacks, hatred, propaganda: a system based on ruthless divisions and manipulation. It is hard for me to imagine that professors at that time participated in the massacres of their own students. It is also hard for me to imagine that even students were involved in the killings of their own classmates. It is proof that even an institution devoted to knowledge can fall into the traps of an ideology based on division and hatred. This is vivid proof that one must always remain vigilant.

First of all, it is noteworthy that this place of learning speaks to us on a very personal level, because we are tied to it by history.

Father Georges-Henri Lévesque, a Canadian, was its first rector.

Father Lévesque was also among us, specifically in Quebec, a great figure and one of the first builders of the education system.

Former students have told how Father Lévesque would often say to them: “You are young, you have an ideal. When you get older, climb toward your ideal, never lower it.”

I believe that when it is practised with concern for the truth and the common good, journalism is an ideal.

It is an ideal of democracy which we need to strive toward with all our strength, and try to maintain it at its highest level.

It is an ideal that is rooted in the desire to give everyone the tools they need to explore the world and to be able to exercise critically and knowingly their freedom to think and act.

It is also rooted in the desire to build and preserve social ties so as to establish a society that respects the rights of all.

It is about raising awareness.

Providing food for thought.

Asking questions about what has been passed over in silence.

Encouraging the expression and confrontation of ideas.

Opening hearts to realities that call for action.

That being said, I appreciate the weighty responsibility and the task of journalists in an emerging democracy like yours, which is trying to rebuild, to restore the ties of trust so brutally and bloodily broken, and to carry out a necessary and painful duty of remembering.

Only on that condition can words testify to the truth, awaken consciences, foster openness and allow for dialogue that leads to healing and to genuine reconciliation.

I feel that sums up the journalistic ideal and its power of liberation and transformation.

Some of you may know that journalism is a profession that I practised myself with conviction for 18 years on Canadian public television.

It is a profession that I believe is vital, for it pertains to, in my opinion, a civic responsibility to take part in the fight against indifference, powerlessness and ignorance. It also requires that information is communicated ethically and with rigour.

But as I said recently in Senegal, at the centre for information science and technology studies, we live in an increasingly complex world where, despite the speed and proliferation of communications, we are sometimes in danger of the abuses of one-track thinking and the excesses of media manipulation that could even lead to hate propaganda.

Free media is a fundamental human right entrenched in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Covenants and embraced in the declarations of the Commonwealth and La Francophonie.

And it is one of those pivotal rights that is crucial to the realization of a host of other human rights in any society: freedom of expression, the right to democratic elections; even the right to a fair and public hearing in the determination of one’s rights and obligations or of any criminal charges.

And while the Universal Declaration provides that governments may establish limitations that are necessary and reasonable to protect others’ rights and public order in a democratic society, it also obliges governments to refrain from any act aimed at the destruction of basic rights and freedoms.

Canada and Rwanda have both subscribed to these obligations through their membership in the UN, la Francophonie, and the Commonwealth, it is incumbent upon our governments to ensure they are fully respected.

We have the responsibility to use information as an instrument in the service of democracy and to ensure that our sense of identity is not lost.

It is up to us to use information as a forum to express a diversity of points of view and ideas.

That, at least, is the wish I make here before you, to open our dialogue.

For we very much look forward in hearing you talk about your achievements, your challenges and your hopes.