How the Ugandan Media Houses are letting Ugandans down
By Sam Agona
In the last few days, Ugandan media houses involving Daily Monitor, Red Pepper, K-FM and Dembe FM has suffered closure by Uganda Police and has raised a lot of debate and protest even as I pen down this blog. I use this opportunity to review the nature of media houses and pull out circumstances under which they (media houses) have provided a disservice to Ugandans. I tend to concentrate on print media, than radios and televisions which I beg to reserve for another day (please remind me in the unlikely event that I forget).
In Uganda, we have pro-government media houses which write what is majorly in favor of government and government officials, but will not write/ entertain anything that is factual yet not in favor of the sitting government, they even know all scandals surrounding people in government but will not reveal as long as that individual has not fallen out with the hierarchy, something very misleading to Ugandans and the world at large. Then we have neutral media houses which are seen as negative media houses with negative energy. Whatever they mention is seen as negative energy even where the recommendations are worthy. This highlights the attitude of the Ugandan government which will not entertain anything being pushed by the Opposition; they also do not do anything pushed by these media houses which they see as “bad”. Against that backdrop, the neutral media houses have turned out to look like “opposition” media houses yet that is not actually the case.
“Mean-looking Police men guarding the cordoned Daily Monitor offices” – Adopted from Daily Monitor
Further, in the wake of media clump down where all of us are shedding tears (either due to teargas, loss of income or boredom) to have news houses reopened, my personal opinion, I think these are the circumstances under which the Ugandan media (save radios and television) have been frustrating to Ugandans and should be addressed when they resume operations;
Vacillation of truth; I think, inclination of persons “pushing” stories behind the scene, Ugandans cannot be sure of what is exactly true if they are to base on Newspapers. For example, during last year’s Makerere University power struggle then eventually ousted Prof. Baryamureeba from his Vice chancellor position, on May 29th, 2012 New Vision reported how Barya vows to retain his job, but later on never makes a single mention of allegations that can after because they were not interested in it. Against that backdrop, someone runs to daily Monitor and on May, 31st 2012 the Barya being faulted for misusing Dutch Funds . New Vision only waits until October 10th, 2012 to publish how Barya has been cleared off MUK funds. Even Barya himself thought he was being attacked thus his threats to sue The Monitor as published by The Observer, something none of New Vision or Daily Monitor wrote yet they were interested in the case. This means someone reading Daily Monitor only, will get one perspective of a story, while someone reading New Vision only, will equally get another perspective. What a disservice!!…
Buying out stories; in Uganda, stories are bought off, there are very high profile cases which could have otherwise been known to the public but because the persons concerned rush to the media houses are pay editors, the stories are kept low or never published at all, some of the high profile scandals that could not be bought off are Chris Mubiru’s ugly sodomy story due to some complications in negotiations otherwise it would have remained under the table.
To put this point more into perspective, you may remember in 2007 when Jim Muhwezi was under fire due to the GAVI case, he accused Monitor’s Naturinda of being on “payroll” of his enemies, this could have been speculative but smoke does not come without some element of fire. This is a disservice to Ugandans who want the truth and nothing but the truth.
Most of you must have not heard of this extortion business but it is paramount to make mention and note the fact that some newspaper gets more money from extorting people than from their advertorials. The ads that run most are for witch doctors, herbalists but they are expanding. It is big business for them and they claim to be doing a service to the readers.
“Red Pepper offices sealed off” Photo by: Patrick Mugumya
Question of genuine stories involving advertisers; you will believe me; media houses have been so coy, when dealing with stories that involve major advertisers. This is an issue that has an implication on their business. When it was unearthed that information on sim card registration was being mismanaged by telecoms, media houses chose not to point a finger out, this is on business grounds. It is something they need to find how to strike a balance between.
Trending useless topics; Ugandan media a times has a tendency of trending extremely useless stories in the face of important happenings. Case in point is when the Mini Skirt issue came up and a big deal was made out of it, which was a totally nonsensical issue to waste pages on, it deserved mention but not all the due attention it harvested.
Tabloidization of important news; we are in a situation where core news items about the economy take the back stage while trivialities and personal eye catching stories like Bad Black’s relationships, marriage story of Bobi Wine, take the front pages and more space in the newspapers. How are you helping the country this way? How? Where is the educational and enlightenment value? This needs to change.
Bubblegum Journalism; One more thing, Ugandan elite have positioned themselves such that their days are kick-started by what appears on the front pages of the dailies. In this case, when print houses do not follow up on stories probably because there is little to benefit from, Ugandans forget about it, for instance the scandal at the ministry of Public Service orchestrated by Principal Accountant Christopher Obey, former PS, Jimmy Lwamafa and group, where more than Ushs. 60 billion was lost in this case but the whole issue has gone to oblivion, I won’t be surprised if you asked me to explain who Obel is!! Thanks to our dailies for their bubblegum journalism.
Provision of online content; there are very many readers who base on online content but the level at which content is uploaded does not inform the populace within Uganda and beyond on a timely basis. It’s understandable that print media houses make money through sales of daily printout copies. However it takes them more than 24 hours to upload the rest of the information online save the home pages and a few stories that break during the day. If their role is to inform, please they should do it willingly. Only The Observer uploads most of its content as is on the printed pages, the rest do not. This is a disservice.
Muting of news; in Sports, Uganda has been running two leagues (we all know, no! we all don’t know) USL and FUFA Super League saga, TV broadcast houses and newspapers kept Uganda in umbra as much as they could about USL yet local players found it important to play in USL because they knew it would give them desired international coverage that would sell them to clubs outside Uganda due to its links with Supersports. This means a local man did not even know, there was anything like USL in Uganda, unless they watched a few programs like NTV’s Sports Bar or NBS’ 4-4-2 TV programs.
Police officers strolling in front of Daily Monitor offices in Namuwongo, Photo adopted from Daily Monitor.
Ignoring of information; lastly, so many letters which are very important and informative are written by elite Ugandans within and abroad but media houses sit on them and do not publish them in the “letter” column and or as guest writers, this is partly because of some of the reasons mentioned above, space is preserved for that tabloid-like style of writing. I deem this a frustration to Ugandans who wish to share their experiences and knowledge to the populace.
All in all, the above need to be looked into as the media houses resume operations (I hope).