Odongtho’s tale of lessons in the media
A discussion about the Ugandan media on the political scene would be incomplete without mention of CHARLES ODONGTHO, the host of the Frontline, a political talk show on NBS TV.
The third child in a family of eight children, who has grown through the ranks to become a force to reckoned with, recently talked to The Standard.
I have been a journalist for 19 years now since I started practicing in 1999.
My first story was broadcast on 13 March over Radio Paidah, a radio station in northern Uganda.
I went to Parombo Primary School in Nebbi, West Nile, and later joined Angal Secondary School, a Catholic school established by the Verona Sisters.
I hold diplomas and a degree in mass communication.
I also undertook a short course in international broadcast journalism in the Netherlands, besides training in Ethiopia in feature and documentary writing.
I did not start off as a journalist. I joined journalism because I did not have enough points for admission to law at Makerere University. I was admitted to the development studies course, which I didn’t like, and my parents wanted me to do education, which I rejected stubbornly.
Due to the convenience that comes with growing up near the border In Parombo in Nebbi district, at the age of 17 I ventured into business. “I was a sub-agent for Uganda Breweries and I would also buy sisal to sell to Kampala and Kenyan businessmen.
Then I would buy ground nuts from the village and sell in town.
I made a lot of money at that time, during my Senior Four vacation, but my parents pushed me to go and finish school, So I left business and resumed school.
My first story
My first story was about the then Chief Justice of Uganda Samuel Wako Wambuzi, who had a fight with the Principal Judge Herbert Ntagoba over a car.
There was a car that the Judiciary had bought for the Principal Judge. Unfortunately the car of the Chief Justice broke down and he opted to take the new one. As a result, they fought over it because the other party was not willing to give up the car. So I broke the story which ran on Radio Paidhah.
Joining the political media sphere
Surprisingly, I do not quite fancy the idea of people looking at me as a political person. Having passion for what I do has driven me into the deep end of politics.
When I joined The New Vision I always went for those big stories because in one way or another they would take a political twist.
I gained the courage to do more, and my desire to do things that are considered hard, as well as facing off with people who are supposed to be accountable to the society, has kept me up to speed with politics.
Going into exile
When I was only five, my father was forced to flee to exile with his family. The mistreatment my father went through left a mark on me.
The few months I spent in exile shaped my perception of the world around me.
I saw Congolese soldiers mistreat my father and my siblings and I could do nothing about it.
I thank God for bringing me out of the soft life where you wake up to bread and jam and taking me through the hard part of life where you do not have tuition, and when your shoes get torn you have to wait until cotton is sold.
Sometimes we had to walk for 30 kilometres to take the cows for sale to the market.
The birth of the Frontline
I was concerned about the level and depth of debate in this country, and wanted to provide a platform for real debate.
I believed that for many years as journalists we assumed that we know what people want, which is not true.
So when the Executive Director of NBS TV, Kin Kaliisa, tasked me with coming up with a talk show in 2016, I knew the FrontLine would create diversity in ideology.
For example, with increasing numbers of Members of Parliament, each member is only given two minutes to speak in session. The Front line is here to bridge this gap.
Challenges at work
While working on NTV, Odongtho faced a devastating blow during an interview with Andrew Mwenda, which led to the loss of his job.
“Mwenda did not want the approach of me asking questions when he spoke. He wanted to talk without interruption and I thought that when he made certain accusations it was only right for me to interject.”
So he plucked the microphone off and fled to management.
He complained to management that he did not want me on the show, at the time i remember the manager was called Aggie Konde, and that is how I left NTV
Later in 2016 he joined NBS TV and a related confrontation ensued.
Odongtho was put in a compromising situation when Mwenda still exhibited a character that he best described as disrespectful, unprofessional and disruptive.
“He did the same thing because he came on air and behaved in a way which was very disrespectful and unprofessional.
I took a decision and said I am not letting this go because was interrupting my other guests.
He went and complained to management again, so management wrote to me a written warning letter saying that I had brought the character of the guest to question I protested and demanded its withdraw because I had done nothing wrong
The viewers protested and threatened to boycott the show, prompting management to call me back. “Mwenda who was one of the key panelists was gotten rid of due to public demand. In journalism when that sort of spat happens, it is the duty of the media house to protect its employee.
But I was disappointed when NBS could not protect me.”
Tots of wisdom
He advises young people to look at their role models not as finished products but as work in progress, which would enable them to learn more.
“The young people need to consider the sacrifices their role models have made. These lessons shape your outlook and help direct and focus your pursuit.”