Uganda: whither the professional journalist?

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This article was first published on Simon Kaheru’s blog, Scare-a-hero. For more of Simon’s observations, analysis and opinion, visit his blog here.

Let’s start off bland: Journalism is a profession.

More realistically, though: Journalism is supposed to be a profession.

The second statement there is more accurate than the first – and accuracy is one of those things that journalists owe the public.

A profession is serious.

“A profession is something a little more than a job, it is a career for someone that wants to be part of society, who becomes competent in their chosen sector through training; maintains their skills through continuing professional development (CPD); and commits to behaving ethically, to protect the interests of the public.”

That’s from

“A profession is a vocation founded upon specialized educational training, the purpose of which is to supply objective counsel and service to others, for a direct and definite compensation, wholly apart from expectation of other business gain.[1] The term is a truncation of the term “liberal profession”, which is, in turn, an anglicisation of the French term “profession libérale”. Originally borrowed by English users in the nineteenth century, it has been re-borrowed by international users from the late twentieth, though the (upper-middle) class overtones of the term do not seem to survive retranslation: “liberal professions” are, according to the Directive on Recognition of Professional Qualifications (2005/36/EC) “those practised on the basis of relevant professional qualifications in a personal, responsible and professionally independent capacity by those providing intellectual and conceptual services in the interest of the client and the public”.”

That’s from

We’ve had many arguments going back many years over whether journalism is a profession or just an activity or occupation. Whereas the increasing spread of ‘citizen journalism’ and Web 3.0 is making it harder to defend the idea that journalism is a profession, I think our toughest challenge is that journalists themselves are abdicating their roles and responsibilities!

Journalists are trained to analyse. Journalists are trained to inform. Journalists are trained to educate.

I can’t imagine that if some crazy innovations enabled us, ordinary mortals, to harness our vast amounts of opinionated argumentativeness and start showing up in courtrooms to represent clients before judges, the legal fraternity would sit back and let us do so without a fight.

More importantly, though, would the quality of legal work drop significantly as a result, if the above actually did happen?

While mulling over the way last weekend’s Cabinet Reshuffle was announced and reported on, I was irritated by the quality of most of what I read.

The easiest excuse given for this is “nanti Social Media competition” but we – journalists and members of the general public alike – shouldn’t go on with this because it’s as lame as the reporting was on Sunday.

I don’t know who exactly drafted the announcement itself and whereas they could have done a much better job, I’m not going to bother with them at this time. In step, I can’t rail against any of the random people who copied and pasted or forwarded the text via WhatsApp because they, are just that – people. Random people.

Not professional journalists trained, skilled and equipped to analyse, inform and educate.

Professional journalists would have a duty, for instance, to fact check the list before publishing it, and make corrections to it (not of the nature that would remove undesirable appointees – more of that later in time) before delivering it to the general public.

That’s what an Editor is for.

The New Vision online, in the rush to publish, left out the President’s principal name right at the start of the story.

New Vision cabint announcement

Daily Monitor, perhaps following a certain pecking order, aimed their first error at the Prime Minister instead.


The New Vision newspaper version, done later, was corrected but surprisingly carried some stark errors that have run through all the other media houses excitedly running this story.

First of all, the names were written in our traditional manner with the surname first and forename second.

I presume that this habit was formed because after formal (foreign) education was introduced into Uganda, we registered names in this way – ‘KAHERU, Simon’ even though when reporting or speaking we were taught to say, “My name is Simon Kaheru.” (and some say “My names ARE …”)

Along the way, those foreign teachers were phased out, and confusion set in as people found it hard to read their names on lists written out in one way and yet be expected to recite them differently; so we began to say, “My name is Kaheru Simon.”

It is like thinking in vernacular and having to speak in a foreign language or vice versa.

And so even though in their daily reporting all the newspapers in Uganda normally write names out as “Forename Surname”, even in some of the stories about this reshuffle, they published the list exactly as it was, resulting in our reading about “Busingye Mary Karoro Okurut” and “Mary Karooro Okurut” on the same page of the newspaper.

In the not-too-distant past, newspapers and other media houses had what they called a ‘House Style’, which was a set of rules they followed in presenting their stories. Just by reading a paragraph you could tell whether it was inThe New Vision or Daily Monitor by noting how names were written, titles cited, and so on and so forth.

These were some elements of the profession that non-journalists were not privy to. Even if a columnist or opinion writer presented their thoughts differently, it was the role of the editor to make the content fit the house style without altering its intention or meaning.

Going back to the list, the presentation of the proposed Minister of Security introduces another point; notice the spelling error there in Karooro’s name? After all these years of her having been such a public figure – including a prolific period as Press Secretary to the President, during which time she communicated principally with the media – it is surprising that a journalist can spell her name wrong.

As I said, I am not going to talk about her employers, supervisors or colleagues having grammatical issues – they are NOT professional journalists even though I wish to God they were professional at this.

If a name like Zerubabel (Mijumbi Nyiira) had been wrongly written the error might have gone unnoticed because of the numerous alternatives to the name, including what it sounds like when spoken by most people here (“Zerubaaberi“).

Mis-spelling Philemon Mateke’s name was itself unacceptable even though he has been off the political scene for many years. The New Vision graphics person, however, corrected that spelling from ‘PHELEMON’.

Which begged thought as to why that same person would carry though the mis-spelt name of the proposed Minister of Foreign Affairs, who is now President of the United Nations General Assembly.


There was a point when journalists were unsure whether his name was spelt with a double ‘e’ or the single ‘e’ we all came to peace with. Not only has this double ‘s’ never been an option, it reads wrong to anybody with a knowledge of the vernacular, and if this list proves anything to a reader here, it is that it has been handled firmly in vernacular.

Kudos to the Observer people, though, for correcting some of the spelling errors, including the spelling of Shem Bageine’s name, which everyone else maintained as “Bagaine”.

Considering that mis-spelt names and titles gave us all the first sign that the fake cabinet list circulated last month was not genuine, it is odd to see these errors still standing even today 24 hours after the rush to publish online. By now, all these media houses should have calmed down enough to edit their websites and look a little more professional.

Speaking of the fake cabinet list of last month, I still can’t explain why most of the media houses that published the .pdf document announcing the list did so yet in ALL instances it neither contained the date nor the signature of the President!


Frothing at the mouth over this on Sunday night, I fell upon this quote:

“If you want to get an authoritative, well-researched, well-written, unbiased report on the news, then that’s something that we [traditional media] give you in the way that a blogger or citizen journalist can’t. [Web editor, regional newspaper, TWIII] “

That’s from this research paper.

And that statement is not being issued by any of our newspapers or media houses right now.

On another note, I noted on that list that once again, the Minister In Charge of the Presidency is exactly that – Minister In Charge of the Presidency.

Reading through a couple of past newspapers and online reports, I find that Frank Tumwebaze is referred to as “Minister for the Presidency & Minister for Kampala Capital City Authority” or “Presidency and Kampala Minister” and other such titles.

The Cabinet List states clearly that he is “Minister In-Charge of the Presidency”, which doesn’t mean that he is NOT in charge of Kampala City because the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) Act puts the Authority under the supervision of a Minister where:

““Minister” means the Minister responsible for the Capital City.”

So if the Minister for the Presidency is assigned the task of supervising KCCA there is no need to include those details in the title, especially when reporting the news.

That aside, these nominated ministers now have to go through some official processes before they can take up the positions they have been named to, and as such, referring to them as ministers is positive thinking but not entirely accurate.

Journalism is a Profession.

Journalists should analyse. Journalists should inform. Journalists should educate.

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