Journalists in Uganda have been challenged to ask the right questions and hold power to account as they report on the Covid-19 pandemic.
During a World Press Freedom Day webinar conducted by African Centre for Media Excellence on Monday May 4, the session’s panellists observed the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed underlying weaknesses that the media have battled for decades. Top on the list is the failure to provide responsible and discerning journalism that questions authority and provides perspective of current events.
Nation Media Group Uganda Public Editor, Charles Bichachi, called on journalists to consistently probe information from official sources.
“Our journalism has stopped being discerning journalism. Our journalism has been mostly journalism that records,” he said.
“We have done a good job reporting events, figures as they are read out by government officials but we have not done a good job asking questions and also bringing perspective to the public,” Bichachi added.
Nicholaj Hejberg Peterson, the Danish Ambassador to Uganda, concurred with this adding: “It’s absolutely vital, whether it’s here, in my country or around the world, that you question us – governments.”
He said critical media, investigative journalism and good reporting are vital at this time.
Samuel Gummah, Country Director of Uganda Radio Network, said that in addition to the weaknesses in content that the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed, the crisis has also brought into sharp focus light questions about the utility and authority of the media in Uganda.
Gummah said audiences have shifted from viewing the media as a voice of authority to questioning its relevance.
“The third wave (of Uganda’s media development) came in the late 90s, and early 2000s – the time FM radio started participating in political campaigns and public information campaigns. Back then is when we got the media to participate and to be taken seriously as an instrument of development, as a channel for communication and information and making its mark on a channel that had been left to the state,” he noted.
Thanks to Covid-19, Gummah said, mainstream media is now experiencing its next challenge. He said it is one in which mature audiences are questioning the role of the media and asking, “Where were we (the media) when Covid-19 hit?”
Editor-in-Chief of Vision Group, Barbara Kaija, said the pandemic has forced the media to reconsider its operational and business strategies.
“For a long time, we thought we had to be in the newsroom to deliver, but now we can package stories remotely. If this had started 20 years ago, we would be better journalists,” she said.
Kaija said the media has been forced to evaluate feasible ways to keep afloat, while at the same time producing high-quality content for their audiences.
“We’ve seen things collapse in weeks. You are expecting to make billions in advertising, but then all of a sudden, there are no adverts, yet you have to pay salaries. It means we have to find alternative ways of running the media,” she observed.
On the sustainability of the media, Ambassador Peterson empathised with media that have taken a hit across the world. He said that while there are no easy solutions to this, Denmark and six other countries that form the Democratic Governance Facility will continue to support a number of programmes in Uganda to promote freedom of expression and a free and vibrant media, especially at this time.
The webinar, in full, is available on below.