Jun 30, 2013

Ugandan media serves Easter Eggs on Christmas

Just because your voice reaches halfway around the world doesn't mean you are wiser than when it reached only to the end of the bar. Edward R. Murrow

Charred bodies, some unidentifiable, of 29 people, including children - and still counting - made it to the cold room [mortuary] in Mulago. This, after a horrific accident last evening, at the Numungoona Roundabout, about 7kms from the Kampala City Center. At about 10pm [EAT] last evening, Ugandan television channels were playing music of all kinds, presenters were hosting some pseudo pretentious musicians and others; classic boxing. On social media, the National Broadcaster - UBC - was updating "tweeps" with what has happening in Namungoona, but when you flipped to the TV station, music, music and music.  

The TV stations were in oblivion and detached from one of their roles - to inform. The excuse, often, is that there are limited resources to cover such stories where they have to rush to the scene - even UBC will complain yet it is taxpayer funded. However, for a TV station not to even have a breaking news ticker, it is rather baffling since that doesn't require resources. Most of our media organisations - NTV, The Daily Monitor, Vision Group and WBS - have journalists who have highly placed sources in The Uganda Police, Uganda Red Cross, Hospitals and Government, so was it very hard for at least a call to be made to confirm the story and get a breaking news ticker rolling. Furthermore, for a journalist, ones job is to go after a story, not so? This was after-all a big story for the reporter and media house.

There were some reporters -Uganda Radio Network, Simba, Akaboozi and CBS - on the scene, and also social media enthusiasts. Even so, a channel like NTV could have just made a call to have a reporter on air - from Uganda Radio Network - update the country on what was going on. We slept. I wept. 

Last month, a great, young and passionate journalist Michael Hastings died, in a perfect send off, his editor wrote

"Great journalists take themselves and their work seriously because it is serious; they know the power they wield."

The big story here is the  fuel tanker exploding and people dying - not common. But for the media, if you are not on-sight to take pictures of how the authorities have reacted - at that time - what story do you plan on telling? Only "she said, he said." Surely we can do better than this. As the media, we wield power. If the authorities know that the media is going to be breaking the news story as it happens, they'll probably be more competent in handling some of these accidents. This is because they know they are being watched by Ugandans. The police instead of issuing a presser 12 hours later, will perhaps be on-sight to update journalists regularly.

Surely, why do we have to wait to put poll questions; "What do you think should be done to control accidents in Uganda." Journalism is about passion: You've got to love it. Before Hastings passed on, he'd offered advice to journalists. 

"Mainly you really have to love writing and reporting. Like it's more important to you than anything else in your life--family, friends, social life, whatever." 

Such a journalist, will give the media owner food for thought [Why don't we air this story? He is at the scene. It could be a scoop]. There's is no way we can keep demanding for media freedom, yet we've failed to utilize even the limited freedom we appear to have. When reporting from then scene, you get the feel the of story, access people's reactions and get your five senses tickled. There is no better way of story telling than vivid descriptions, you'll probably win an award as a result. This also involves the viewers actively, leading them ask the questions -if any - they'd want their government to answer. 

Some will say this is idealism of the highest order. How do I gain from all this? Why should I be up all night to cover such a story? Who cares? What about my sleep? Henrik Ibsen's 1882 play, An Enemy of the People, the protagonist, Dr Thomas Stockmann wants to do right and tell the truth, but everyone else around him thinks this is not a good idea. But he won't back-off, no matter what: 

"The strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone." 

So as journalist, your obligation is to tell the truth or to state the facts and explore them in full but by not waiting for the storm to calm - after homes have been destroyed - and then you instead rush to ask what the government is doing to help. Sorry, you missed out on the big story: The people affected, what was the early warning system like, who died, what were they doing, how were the responses by the authorities...

"...What am I trying to say? Saying that you will not do anything because you cannot solve everything is a lame and, frankly, very poor excuse. Do your part and then you will have the authority to ask of others what they are doing to make this country better," David FK Mpanga a lawyer and a regular Saturday Monitor Columnist who wrote in a piece once titled "What are you doing to make a Uganda better country?" 
For the media owners, perhaps having night duty reporters who can take on stories that happen effective 20:00 hours till 05:00 hours is a good idea? Who will tell the story of what is happening at the scene before we move on to "The police said the drivers were under the influence" and "What is with Ugandans and siphoning fuel?" 

In late May when anti-government protests started out in Turkey, the local media was criticized for having shows about penguins instead of what was going on in their backyard. The protesters got angry and torched some of the broadcast vans of the local stations because they felt they'd been ignored. For Ugandans, it may not get to this level, but surely one can understand if they throw the rotten Easter Eggs the media served them on Christmas Day. 

Note: We[media] feed Ugandans on so much junk, by they time we get to know it, they'll be obese - on emptiness. 


  1. Sometime in 2004, around Nyendo about 5 Kilometers from Masaka town, a bush fire had covered the road for 300 meters. Mayhem had followed as over 20 vehicles had collided in the diminished visibility. I called KFM to relay the news and report on the scene. They ignored me. I called Radio one as well. Nix. No one wanted to pick up that story and report it as it unfolded. .........

  2. Spot on! Even now, 24 hours later, I am still feeling quite frustrated at how casually all the media houses have taken this. I think back to the week after the media "siege" when some members of the public complained that the media hadn't been serving them anyway, and it surprises me that these very same media houses have already forgotten calling those complaints unfair!