BY THOMAS FROESE
If you are a faithful reader of this publication you will recall a recent report that Uganda’s government is so enamoured with what The Standard is doing that it now wants to do the same, that is train journalists.
Okay, he didn’t mention The Standard per se, but the Minister of Information, ICT and Communications, Frank Tumwebaze, did say recently what we already know: that there are simply not enough decent reporters and editors and news producers in the entire land.
The government, he claims, can help. It can open a new journalism training centre. Oh my! In well-oiled democracies, governments stick to governing while the press sticks to, well, pressing. (And in the world’s best democracies, the press tends to press rather hard!)
Therefore, when a government says it wants to help the media, it’s like the cats offering to help the mice. When you take Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) Radio as a case study, after 15 years of the so-called liberalization of Uganda’s media (that largely refers to government keeping its hands off of broadcast and print houses except for the odd pulling of the plug when the truth hits too close to home), the government realizes what is plain to see that virtually nobody in UBC Radio knows what they are doing.
DJs are hired to read news in an entertaining way, even as comedians are hired to be engaging.
Yes, UBC Radio is full of engaging voices; it is just that they are not engaging in journalism. Radio One, Capital FM and a few other radio stations have some trained journalists.
The rest, dozens upon dozens of stations, simply read brief news bulletins bought from UBC, a network where a few journalists collect and sell news to these many stations which do not know a story’s head from a monkey’s tail. Uganda’s print media is also in a sorry state of affairs.
Without the ease of a transmitter to simply switch off, the government needs to call their newsrooms “scenes of crime” when shutting them down. Be that as it may, even Uganda’s best or safest newspapers cannot easily find or keep talent.
In fact, it is now more tempting to hire school teachers than mass communication graduates.
For one, teachers can be paid half the salary, then trained exactly how newspapers work. Those thankful teachers then will not skip out after a year or two and find better paying public relations jobs in the NGO sector like so many communication graduates do. Secondly, back to minister Tumwebaze’s point, Uganda’s pool of well-trained journalists is simply too shallow to begin with.
Consider that this publication, The Standard, a journalism training ground for almost a decade now, remains the only regularly-published campus paper in all of Uganda, if not Eastern and Central Africa.
The solution, then, is not to create some new government- run journalism school, but to give thoughtful incentives to universities and other existing training centres.
These will duplicate the platform started here at UCU and create campus publications stabilized through student fees and operated at arms’ length from guild governments and all those vested interests.
There is no shortcut to training journalists properly and then paying them a competitive, professional salary. In the process, harness capacity-building from experienced sources.
The benefits are innumerable. With a healthy and independent media, entire nations enjoy higher standards of living, more honest governments and closer societal bonds.
On the other hand, let the media flounder and watch how people can suffer far and wide in ignorance and all other forms of darkness.
Thomas Froese is a long-time Canadian journalist who is one of the founders of The Standard.