Speech by Prof Monica B. Chibita at the Uganda National Journalism Awards 2020

Photo by Katumba Badru

On several occasions, I have stood before journalists, partners, government officials, civil society representatives and members of the public to speak about the important role that ACME and the media play in our society. 

ACME’s major goal: to make the media more effective in their roles of information on public affairs, provide fora for debate on a range of matters and hold those the public entrusts with power accountable. ACME’s other role is to fight against any attempt to unduly shrink the space for free expression, a space where the media at this moment in our history, occupy centre stage. 

This year’s UNJA awards are unique for two reasons. 

The first reason is that these awards take place in the midst of one of the largest pandemics the world has ever known. As of yesterday, 28 million cases with many deaths in practically every country around the world. The situation in Uganda seems to be taking a Southward trend and will need to be arrested before it goes out of hand. 

The second reason, and related to the first, the media have recently become the main theatre for  political contestation.  This year’s campaigns are supposed to be largely conducted on radio, TV and online. Interestingly, there may be a complex link developing between the development of the campaigns and the direction of the pandemic. 

It is the media’s job to explain complexities  like these, to examine their causes, their social implications, their social cost etc., and to facilitate debate on how they may be addressed.   

The media, therefore, are within their mandate when they (on a variety of platforms) question the conduct of public officials and how this may impact society; when they ask individuals, civil society organizations  and government officials to give an account of their stewardship of resources; when they open up space for a range of voices to be heard, provided they do this within the limits of professionalism. 

In its media development work, ACME targets the media, the private sector, civil society and the public, and advocates for press freedom as well as freedom of expression. 

ACME does this through managing fellowships and grants; running media literacy and mid-career training; offering internships; creating regular fora for debate linked with advocacy for a better media environment and providing free online resources for journalists. In executing their mandate, ACME tries not to perform these roles in silos. 

The UNJA awards are in a way the climax of all these efforts: the capstone. It is at the awards that we see Ugandan journalism at its best.  It is always a joy to see journalists that have benefitted from ACME’s programmes and support emerge as winners at these awards, though this is not a pre-requisite. 

This year, the total number of entries was 241. Unfortunately, women constituted only 16% of participating journalists while upcountry-based journalists were 31%.

We would like to encourage women journalists to participate more not only in the awards, but also in other ACME-run activities and programmes. 

To know more about what ACME has lined up for the coming months (and it’s a lot), please follow ACME on its social media platforms and regularly visit the ACME website (projected). 

Thanks

We are grateful to all our partners for continuing to believe in ACME and supporting the awards since they started in 2014. A special thank you to DGF for making UNJA 2020 possible against all odds, for continuing to partner with ACME,  and for your unwavering support for media freedom and freedom of expression in Uganda through the years. 

I take this opportunity to thank ACME for the privilege of serving as your Board Chairperson for the last eleven years. We have been through thick and thin together and we have grown. Whereas the last couple of years have been a little tough in terms of resources, ACME is on a strong rebound trajectory and is here to stay. 

Along with several Directors, I will be retiring before the end of this month, but we are confident we leave behind a going concern with good leadership and a strong team. I especially thank Dr. Mwesige and his brilliant and incredibly committed team for keeping this very important venture going, particularly through the last year (Dr. Peter Mwesige, Apollo Kakaire, Bernard Tabaire, Rachel Mugarura, Yusuf Ziraba, Brian Senabulya-applause).

I thank the indomitable ACME Board for staying the course. Due to restrictions in numbers, most of them are not here today but I know they appreciate our partners and friends and the Management Team greatly. They would have loved to be here to celebrate with us. 

I pray that our partners will continue to work with ACME to guarantee the sustainability of  an extremely important mission.

Awardees

We are grateful to the Panel for their very hard and painstaking work. 

Congratulations to those who excelled in reporting, and I wish everyone a happy scientific event. 

Finally, please remember to stay safe. Covid-19 is real. God bless you. 

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Prof Monica B. Chibita

Board Chairperson, African Centre for Media Excellence

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The Uganda National Journalism Awards were supported by the Democratic Governance Facility.

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