Edinburgh Book Festival: Anjan Sundaram: The Journalists Battling for Free Speech

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The session with Anjan Sundaram with Jenny Niven in the Chair deserved to be better attended - the presentation hall was only about three quarters full, however, the subject and the content of Sundaram's talk was fascinating.

Anjan Sundaram is an award winning journalist who has received many plaudits for "Bad News", which exposes the problems journalists face reporting in Rwanda.

The mere fact that the current President of Rwanda should have enacted legislation so that he can retain power until 2034 is pretty incredible and flies in the face of democracy. This will mean that the President Kagame will have been in power for some forty years, if the earlier period in power from 1994, when he commanded the force that ended the genocide, is taken into account.

Throughout this period Sundaram maintains the forces of the President have suppressed any news stories which showed the regime in a bad light or were in any way critical of those in power. Sundaram explained how he had gone to Rwanda in order to teach journalists and that over the time he was there all the members of his class gradually faded away or were picked up by the Government forces and imprisoned or tortured. Indeed, he lists all the journalists who suffered under the President's forces as an appendix to his book.

Sundaram gave two readings from his book which were both very powerful and which illustrated the type of conditions that journalists had to work under. In the first, he described, how when he was driving, an explosion took place. He went to the area, but found that traffic was flowing as normal and that all traces of the incident had been removed and the streets swept clean. This was the way it was with the authorities, any incident or any bad news was instantly swept under the carpet and everyone pretended that it had not happened.

He said that Rwanda was a wonderful place, but although there were plenty of cars there are few people on the streets. Many are too afraid to venture out. Because the place looked so 'normal' many countries were happy to support the United Nations and to give aid to the Rwandan Government, however, Sundaram felt that all was not well and that actually much of the money was being creamed off by the Government who used it for their own purposes.

Throughout his talk there was a clear references to the fact that there was no freedom of the press in Rwanda and that any article which could be taken as critical of the President was suppressed very forcibly.

For those who are concerned about the freedom of the press and the way that governments are influenced to send large amounts of money to support allegedly poor nations, this book is well worth reading.

I commend "Bad News" to you as an account of what can happen in a situation when only positive stories can be published and a free press is completely gagged.

Bad News: Last Journalists in a Dictatorship by Anjan Sundaram was published by Bloomsbury Circus in January 2016.