Rwandan Journalists equipped to Report on Artificial Intelligence

Rwandan journalists have been equipped with the necessary skills to report effectively on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and educate the general public on the opportunities and challenges of this emerging technology.

This was the outcome of a four-day Journalist Training on Reporting on AI, held from 6 to 9 February in Kigali, Rwanda. Jointly organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the German Development Agency (GIZ), the training was based on the newly-published UNESCO handbook for journalism educators.

“I have been interested in covering AI topics ever since I started seeing AI make major headlines across the globe,” said Heritier Bahizi, a reporter at The New Times Rwanda. “Before coming to the training, I mostly focused on understanding the applications of AI in our journalistic work, especially generative AI. The training has since exposed me to many other types of AI.” Mr. Bahizi was speaking at the closing of the training, which was themed “Artificial Intelligence and Journalism.”

Rwanda published its National AI Policy in 2023, becoming the third country in Africa to adopt AI policy after Mauritius and Egypt. Developed by the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and Innovation (MINICT) and other partners including GIZ, the policy is part of the country’s efforts to position itself as a frontrunner in AI policy and development in Africa.

Against the backdrop of these developments, this journalist training aims to support the government’s awareness campaign to inform citizens of the National AI Policy and socialize individuals to the impact of AI on society. Journalists play a critical role in fostering an informed society, which is especially needed to ensure transparency and accountability in the governance of emerging technologies like AI.

Demystifying AI to impact communities

From demystifying AI to exploring its potentials and challenges, participants acquired fundamentals of AI including its underlying technologies, applications across different sectors, and ethical considerations. Experts from diverse backgrounds shared their perspectives and engaged in interactive discussions to facilitate a deeper understanding of AI-related issues.

“I have gained a lot of insights into major sectors where AI is being used in Rwanda in service of ordinary people. I intend to produce more impactful stories that will help my readers learn more about AI technological advances in sectors like in agriculture and healthcare,” said Bahizi.
I will be doing my best to demonstrate how ordinary people like farmers and healthcare workers can use these AI solutions to support their work.”

Francine Andrew Saro, a reporter at Fezaa.com, remarked that the training clarified her early misconceptions about AI, and unlocked many new possibilities on reporting on AI for her future work.

“I learned that AI powers many tools we use regularly, which we may not be aware of. Importantly, it is not a robot—a myth that tends to be reinforced by inaccurate reporting in mainstream media—but a set of programmes that operate in a certain way to execute commands in an automated way,”

Odyssée Ndayisaba, a facilitator who spoke on the ethical and policy issues surrounding AI, lauded participants’ desire to deepen their knowledge of the AI and urged them to embrace the latest technological advancements. This is because technology will become increasingly intertwined with people’s daily lives and can offer solutions to complex challenges.

“It was important that we went beyond technical discussions. Ethics and policy issues had to be addressed. We also talked about international standards and legal issues that journalist may come across and must consider carefully,” Mr. Ndayisaba said.

Mr. Ndayisaba was also referring to the UNESCO Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, the first-ever global standard on AI that was adopted by all 193 Member States in 2021. In line with the Recommendation, the training emphasized that the protection of human rights and dignity is central to the development of trustworthy and human-centered AI, and should also be mainstreamed in AI reporting.

UNESCO roots for inclusive AI access

Driven by its mission of building inclusive knowledge societies, UNESCO called on journalists to bring attention to the need for inclusive AI development and adoption. Because of existing inequalities, uncritical AI development or adoption may magnify the digital divide, and further disadvantage underserved groups like women and girls, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Journalists play a critical role in unearthing these voices, stories and narratives that may be marginalized or misunderstood.

Sharmaine Koh, Communications and Information Officer at UNESCO Regional Office for Eastern Africa, explained the impetus for UNESCO’s and GIZ’s engagement of journalists to communicate facts and clarify myths about AI for more informed societies. “We recognise that there is a lot of misinformation and disinformation generated by and about AI. Oftentimes, it can be difficult to discern fact from fiction, especially since AI can be perceived as an inaccessible and highly technical topic. It is not an easy task to inform the general public about what AI is, what it means for them, and the ethical concerns surrounding it. We hope that nurturing such conversations with journalists will support them in this task,” said Ms. Koh.

Under the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC), UNESCO has published a series of resource handbooks to guide journalists on reporting on different challenging issues, such as migrants and refugees, disinformation and misinformation, and terrorism. The Handbook on Artificial Intelligence is the latest publication in the series. IPDC is the only UN multilateral forum designed to mobilize countries around media development, and supports a healthy environment for the growth of a free and pluralistic press around the globe.

Ms. Koh also noted that journalists play an important role in holding policy makers accountable for the responsible and ethical governance of this new technology.

“With the publication of its National AI Policy, Rwanda has made great strides in prioritizing AI development to better the lives of its people. But now that AI is a hot-button topic among policy circles, how do we involve the grassroots communities and ordinary citizens in this conversation too?” she noted.

“We hope that this training has given journalists more confidence to report on AI proficiently . Hopefully, they will share their knowledge with their colleagues and peers, a build a community of Rwanda journalists who are enabled to report more on AI and tech issues,” she remarked, adding that the 14 participants were the first cohort of journalist to have been trained on the latest UNESCO handbook. UNESCO envisages to hold similar workshops in Rwanda and other countries in future.

The trained journalists have now embarked on producing and publishing much more informative stories about AI. The best three stories will be awarded in a ceremony planned for 15 March 2024, according to Solange Ayanone, the Managing Director of AFRI-MEDIA Ltd, a Kigali-based media consultancy firm that coordinated the training.

By Jean d’Amour Mugabo

Sangiza abandi iyi nkuru

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