Analytical reporting essential for vibrant public debate about government policy – Dr Louis Kasekende

On 12 April 2017 Deputy Governor of the Bank of Uganda, Dr Louis Kasekende, presided as chief guest at a gala to announce winners of the Uganda National Journalism Awards. Dr Kasekende challenged journalists, particularly those who report on financial and economic issues, to aim for in-depth and analytical reporting in order to explain essential policy issues to the public. “It is essential for the health of the democracy that statements about the economy and the public policy proposals receive critical scrutiny in the media by those with expertise to do this,” he added.

The full transcript of his speech, as delivered, is below.

 

Dr Lous Kasekende: Good evening.

Let me start by recognising the Ambassadors, Your Excellencies; recognising Monica Chibita, the chair of the board; George Lugalambi, who was one of the judges – the chief judge; Peter Mwesige, who is the Executive Director of the African Centre for Media Excellence; members of the media fraternity; ladies and gentlemen.

Let me start by expressing my thanks to the Executive Director for extending an invite to me to be your chief guest this evening. I don’t think I have ever been in a room full of journalists. This is my first time, so I thank Peter for giving me this opportunity of spending an evening with journalists.

As the chief judge has said, this is a very important event for journalism in Uganda and I hope it will contribute to raising the standards in the profession and also to inspire the young people to take up a career in journalism.

I have been asked several times today whether I am an expert in journalism and my simple answer has been, “No”. I come from the area of business and economics and my remarks will focus on business and economics; but I think they will also be relevant to journalists, especially those journalists who cover finance and economics.

I want to address two questions: What are the essential functions of business and economic journalism? What are the most important services it can offer to the public and society at large?

I believe that there are two principle types of services that the public should expect from the business pages or programmes of media.

The first – and I think this has also been touched on by the chief judge – what we the public want from you is objective reporting of the basic facts about the economy and business. For example, what is the inflation rate; how much profit did Company X make; what are the alternative investment channels for a member of the public?

I give lectures and talks to Rotary clubs and these are the elite in Uganda, I should say. But I am always surprised that few know about treasury bills and bonds as an investment alternative, as opposed to buying a taxi, a bodaboda and land.

Many citizens need this type of information to guide the decisions which matter in their working and private lives. Obviously in the age of Internet the public could obtain this information from websites of public agencies and private companies, but for most people that would be very time consuming. For most members of the public it is more practical to obtain economic data through the media. That means that journalists must report these data accurately, in a manner which is easily accessible and understandable, and also, where necessary, explain what it actually means. You must be able to put that data you’ve received in the relevant context. Obviously that is only possible if the journalists have got a very good grasp of the economic concepts, their relevance and how they are presented in a statistical form.

On our part, as Bank of Uganda, we now endeavour to provide sound bytes of key messages in different languages to the media. And I would like to commend the local language media for supporting our cause of translating and interpreting these policy matters for the benefit of the rural economy and the bottom of the pyramid. You should give them a round of applause.

[Applause]

The second type of service required of economic and business journalism is good analysis of relevant issues. Journalists need to go beyond reporting facts and explain what is happening and why. This is very essential for the public to acquire any understanding, however rudimentary, of the economic issues which affect their lives.

I have been challenged several times by my friends, who read the statements issued by the Governor on monetary policy. They ask me: “How many people read and understand these statements by the Governor?” We leave it to you to understand these statements. You can come to us and we interpret, but we know that you have better skills than us to communicate these messages to the public.

Well informed economic analysis in the media has a vital contribution to make to public debate in Uganda. It is essential for the health of the democracy that statements about the economy and the public policy proposals receive critical scrutiny in the media by those with expertise to do this.

The media record, in my judgement, in this regard is rather patchy. I am going to give you an example. If you take the United States, the trade policy pronouncements of the current President, Trump, have received very extensive analysis in the media and anyone in the country who is interested in this aspect of public policy can have no excuse for not being well informed about the pros and cons of President Trump’s favoured trade policy.

In contrast, in Uganda, Government recently announced the ‘Buy Uganda, Build Uganda’ trade policy. This has received very little analysis and evaluation in the media. Hopefully someone will receive an award for presenting a piece on ‘Buy Uganda, Build Uganda’. So it leaves me disappointed that such a major trade policy announced by Government has not received critical analysis by the media.

I would like to say a few words now about Bank of Uganda and its relationship with the media.

As you are aware, we currently implement an inflation targeting monetary policy framework, the efficacy of which depends on the public understanding of what we are trying to achieve. The Bank of Uganda uses a monetary policy tool, which is the Central Bank Rate to target core inflation. Now, public expectations about future inflation and the impact of monetary policy also help determine future outcomes. Hence, monetary policy must be transparent. The Bank of Uganda must explain its monetary policy and also guide inflation expectations through clear indication of the Central Bank Rate decision, the underlying reasons for that decision, and convincing the public that the decision taken shall finally deliver a certain target inflation.

If the public expects a higher inflation and they do not have faith in the policy decision of the Bank, then chances are that they would put that in their pricing and actually inflation will go high. Naturally this means that the media is a very critical component of the policy transmission mechanism, and efficient communication is essential for the credibility of the entire policy framework.

As a result, the Bank of Uganda has revamped its communications department and we’ve strengthened it to support the implementation of the inflation targeting framework. We hold press briefings immediately after the bimonthly interest rate setting meeting to which all the media are invited. We issue a report, which is also posted on our website. We respond to questions; our senior staff are always available to answer further questions. But we do not expect uncritical coverage from the media of the decisions of Bank of Uganda as this would be very counterproductive and would do little to enhance public confidence in the monetary policy.

This said, we welcome well informed comment and analysis by the media of our monetary policy, even if it is critical as this can enhance public understanding and public debate.

So before I conclude, I would like to make a brief comment on the overall state of the media in this country.

If you take a long-term perspective, there is no doubt that there has been great progress by Uganda’s media over the last two decades. You can clap for yourselves.

[Applause]

The range of media outlets has broadened and we have much more vibrant media than many other countries in our region. In many respects the media has been one of the most successful sub-sectors of our economy. I hope that this progress can continue, and that initiatives like this one tonight will spur journalism to greater heights. For this to happen, journalists must jealously guard their integrity and intellectual independence so as not to act according to the whims or biased persuasions of self-interest groups or individuals, which would be to the detriment of the public good, institutions and the economy as a whole.

And finally, I wish to congratulate all the winners and all those who submitted. I have no doubt that you thoroughly deserve your success. And I thank you all for listening to me.

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