Ugandan journalism may not be thriving, but it’s still useful

By Bernard Tabaire

Wrongly spelt words – even of names of sources one has interviewed – atrocious punctuation, and context-free stories are the most irritating things for me about our media. I am leaving out other horrors: grammar, word-usage, syntax, accuracy. For I come not to beat up on the Ugandan media. Plenty of it is going on over there on social media.

I come to praise the good that is in the Ugandan media this World Press Freedom Day. We know what we know about current goings-on in Uganda almost entirely from the media. I am talking mainstream media. As a colleague noted trenchantly, Ugandan journalism is way better than the sum of its parts.

Only a few people attend certain types of meetings, say of the ruling NRM’s central executive committee, yet we get to know a lot about what transpired because some reporter asked several people at the meeting to recount what they saw, heard, said, felt. Once these accounts from different attendees, call them leakers, corroborate each other, voila, the rest of us get to have a good sense of what happened behind the shuttered doors, windows, and curtains. Whether it was heated, whether it was business as usual, whether party secretary general Amama Mbabazi’s toenails were pulled, whether the chairman left the meeting at the halfway point. Some composite picture emerges, giving us a glimpse into the workings of the organs that make decisions that affect the country.

Indeed, because of the media we have a pretty clear picture of the stages the ruling NRM party went through last year to throw out Mr Mbabazi. Things got off to a public start in February in Kyankwanzi at the annual retreat of the parliamentary wing of the NRM and ended in December with the ignominious ouster at a communist party-style gathering of the charged faithful.

In covering politics, our journalists have not shown their partisanship, which is not to say they have no political leanings. They have commendably kept their political views out of their news stories. I have heard horror stories of journalistic partisanship in mainly Francophone countries. It is bloody over there where the line between news and political propaganda is virtually non-existent. Political journalism is thus not about issues. It is crass propaganda in the service of party X or candidate Y in return for life’s goodies.

Making money, especially from farming, is all the rage amongst some Ugandan professionals these days. Cows, chickens, chillies. Anecdotally, New Vision’s insert magazines, “Harvest Money” and “Pakasa”, the latter having spawned a separate and profitable cousin outside the paper’s pages, have something to do with it. Ditto Daily Monitor’s “Seeds of Gold”. I read them, not as religiously as I would like. Regardless, I learn something every time. That there is journalism you can use.

This striving toward innovation is ever alive. The results maybe mixed, but it is not for lack of energy and a little thinking. Bukedde took local-issues reporting to a relevant and irreverent place. Hammer-style headlines. Ethically dodgy page one photos. Local language use. No wonder its sales have been the healthiest of any daily in the last five or so years.

Then there are the gossip pages, euphemistically referred to us as society pages. Which politician or musician or sportsman dumped his family for a side dish? (Side dish!) Who was caught in flagrante with whom, where? Who leaked which diva’s nude pictures and why? You want to know why a royal marriage ended even before consummation? Do you want to know where orgies take place in Kampala? Our media serve that up in cheeky chunks. This stuff appeals to the voyeur inside us. It is also entertaining. Most times. Especially, when you are not on the other end of the tale. Ultimately, it reveals something about Ugandan society. That is a service worth recognising. Celebrating even.

Oh, and Ugandan media have refused to be bludgeoned into submission by the dark forces of politics and business. Everyday we awake to absorb new information about our country. The quality of the information varies, but it is available. The same can’t be said of medicines in government health centres.

Happy May 3 to Ugandan media. Let journalism thrive!

Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire co-founder and Director of Programmes at African Centre for Media Excellence. He is a former managing editor for weekend editions at the Monitor Publications in Kampala and also a columnist with the Saturday Monitor.

2 thoughts on “Ugandan journalism may not be thriving, but it’s still useful

  • May 3, 2015 at 10:12 pm
    Permalink

    Until you get to know how grossly exaggerated the farmers’ testimonials are in those supplements. That’s when you start questioning what else you’re being blatantly lied to about. But I have my own conspiracy theory about those agric stories. And there’s another thing the mainstream media is good for.

    Reply
    • May 7, 2015 at 4:45 pm
      Permalink

      Ishtant, I have no blinkers on. Whatever my take-away from those stories, it is more discerning and is drawn from reading many of them over time. That is also combined with what I have seen and what I know from friends and relatives. Thanks for the comment.

      Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

%d bloggers like this: