Last week, I fixed an appointment with a big public office to do a feature piece on their ‘God- Knows- how Old – library’. Ten minutes to the appointment I checked in at their premises and gladly took my seat at the reception to hold for my turn at their reception table. It wasn’t long before I flipped out my identity as a journalist and requested to go meet with the public relations officer with whom my appointment had been fixed and then trouble began!
The look on the receptionists’ faces read ‘who the hell do you think you are?’ though the response was “take a seat and hold on as we get in touch with the responsible office”. 30 minutes on, and 20 minutes into my appointment time, the receptionists were holding conversations on who died last week and the probable cause, the only punctuation to their whiffs of smudginess being the people being referred to different offices. Then I stepped up to them, “Excuse me ma’am I’ve warmed these seats enough, I think it’s ripe that I went in?” at that point is when they remembered I had sat there waiting on them to call the public relations guy! And guess what their response was, “we are sorry but you are too young a journalist to cover such high profile offices”
That had been the stunner for the day and perhaps my one-year in journalism. So in Uganda journalists graduate by age? What they cover or not also depends on their age? Interesting, I slowly walked back to my bag and left the premises immediately else I be convicted for being young to step on the public office’s premises. In my head I couldn’t help but reminisce of the tens of by-lines I had written about these chaps. So when they are inviting for press conferences, do they consider age?
Anyway that aside, Government regulator Uganda communications commission banned two radio talk shows which apparently in their political lineage are hubs for ‘inciting violence’! this happens a lot in Uganda, we have on previous occasions seen media houses closed for their activities being labeled by government as ‘inciting violence’ who speaks for the journalists? Where is the evidence that they incite violence? In any case what incitement are we talking about? I can barely recall the last time I heard a radio presenter tell people to pick up machetes and slice other races apart? Isn’t this a form of witch-hunt?
So when we speak against people stealing public funds, that is regarded as inciting violence? Well then we should settle for playing the populace songs like ‘emmesse’ whole day because that’s all we are left for! If we cannot inform then what else is our role as journalists? Waiters and receptors of radio calls requesting for music? Writing reviews about songs like ‘emmesse’? samosa eating generals that fleece each press conference of eats and drinks? We could as well become mast-technicians then! So unfold your sleeves my colleagues, now is not the time for us to write to inform, for that is inciting violence! Sit back on your news desks and watch the tweets by day, update your facebook status and walk to the accounts office for your pay-check!
But even in your newsrooms, the ticks have caught up with you! By apparent reports which are verifiable too, in some media houses, declaring political affiliation publicly is a condensed felony deserving of a suspension! By some unspeakable nature, journalists should now not hold public opinion over the flow of events in their country. We can as well say we, the ones meant to inform have our hands in chains but still purport to be the eyes of society!
It has become fashionable for government officials to write e-mails to editors ‘commanding that a story be torn down and a public apology delivered to him over the press for the actions of a journalist. When we report that a certain individual X as per the findings of parliament, which findings are backed by a report flew to Israel 8 times in a month, it is then the guilt of the media house for carrying such a story in their headlines! Shall we then not write about parliamentary reports? Shall we wait for a press conference of musicians to announce their next album release? For that is where we have been condemned to!
Ugandan journalism is slowly suffocating to its death! Despite the misreporting, under-reporting and over-reporting tendencies, a certain force is clouding the operations from both within and outside newsrooms!