Journalists in Uganda have agreed that the future of good journalism in the country lies in the practice of investigative journalism.
This has come at a time when there are increasing doubts and loose of trust in the industry by different sections of audience due to the increasing rates of “fake news” and a mix of journalism and public relations.
On October 4th, 2019, different newsrooms reported news about DFCU bank closing up to a tune of 23 branches countrywide and just 30 minutes after the breaking of the news, the bank released a press statement that the news was fake. This is not just one incident, several times, news have been broken and upon investigation, information comes out that what was first presented was not factual.
It is in such scenario that journalists are trying to devise ways of maintaining the relevancy and audience trust by the audience.
In the ongoing Uganda Media Week [10th- 11th, October 2019] program organized by Media Focus on Africa [MFA] in partnership with Konrad Adenauer Stiftung [KAS] and DW Akadamie, different journalists across the country have been engaged in different conversations on the theme; Shaping the Future of Journalism in Uganda.
Jan Ajwang, the Programme Manager at MFA explained that the objective of the Media Week program is to find practical solutions that are contextualised for Uganda, and also to weight the different opportunities.
In a panel discussion on the state of investigative reporting in Uganda, where the challenges and opportunities in Investigative reporting in Uganda were discussed, different veteran journalists expressed their thoughts.
Canary Mugume, a political investigative journalist with NBS TV in Uganda, revealed that the greatest challenge facing the practice of investigative journalism in Uganda is safety before and after the report is released.
According to him, there has always been pressure from the victims of the problem uncovered and they further threaten a journalist who is involved in the story.
“I have been with my colleagues who first have to secure a place where they can run to hide for a given period of time after the story is released,” said Mugume.
He cited an example of an investigative report recently broadcast on NBS TV. The reported titled Stealing from the sick uncovered the way most medical practitioners sell government aided drugs to private clinics. He said the journalists who did that story have barely had rest since the story was broadcast in May.
Carol Kasujja, an investigative journalist with New Vision also shared her personal experience of safety around friends and relatives.
“After a story is released and the buyline is on your names, everyone you meet is so suspicious while talking or sitting next to you. They think you are either secretly recording them or you are noting down what they say,” said kasujja.
In an attempt to finding a solution to the stated challenges of safety, Babara Among,a veteran journalist and trainer said journalists need to mind there social network in investigative reporting.
According to her, every journalist who would like to be an Investigative Journalist should always put themselves first.
“As someone who would like to be an I.J, the first person is you,” said Among.
According to her, this is the first step in countering the personal security of an Investigative Journalist and one of the ways to do it is by minding the social network, which is now substituted by the social media platforms.
“What you post on social media starts with you. How much are you exposing yourself, family and relatives?” added among.
Among further advises that journalists should build a network of people whom they trust.
“In case the story is hot, there should be someone to tip you off that they are coming for you. Or, you should have a relative whom you can give some of your records to keep for back up,” advised Among.
The discussion on the ethical challenges in the practice on Investigative Journalism in Uganda is another lengthy bit of a conversation.
Among strongly advised journalists to always avoid as much as they can to put their life in the story of the victim.
“In my 15 years+ of journalism, I do not need to put myself in the shoes of the victim to be able to tell a story,” said Among.
According to her, what journalists should put into consideration before releasing the story is the impact and interest of the story to the audience.
“Is the story interesting for the people or it is of public interest?” advised Among.
In other challenges such as low pay and limited budgets in the newsrooms, Benon Herbert Oluka, an editor for Global Investigative Journalism Network advised that journalists in Uganda ought to borrow a collaborative approach in the practice of journalism.
He cited examples from Nigeria and South Africa where different media houses now work together to investigate on different cases.
“Independence is killing the newsroom. We need to work together for the good future of investigative journalism in Uganda,’ said Oluka.
Oluka gave a keynote presentation on the future of investigative journalism in Uganda and some of the key ideas he raised were the need to strongly begin practicing collaborative investigations locally and fact checking of information before it is presented to the audience.