Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Uganda: Media and stereotypes; give me a break!

Things I have confirmed about the mass media are many. But media creating images and entrenching stereotypes is alive in Uganda.

Take an example of reporting conflict in Uganda’s media. In the last two years, Rwenzori region, particularly Kasese and Bundibugyo, has been affected by conflict. This conflict sometimes borders on ethnicity and at other times it’s crime just like crime would be committed anywhere and be regarded as crime; nothing more.

But in the case of Rwenzori, the media reporters have developed a tendency of failing to distinguish between ethnic conflict and criminality. In most cases they are reporting wholesale the official accounts of the government agents.

Yet, one of the prized tenets of journalism is verification of news before publishing it. Among the many ways of news verification is interviewing as many people as possible about the same story/news and then report both accounts.

Unfortunately, this practice is fast disappearing in most of our media outlets. It is common to read or view single or two sourced stories.

A few years ago, when I was still an active member of the newsroom, my editor would not publish my story if it did not have at least four sources quoted or attributed. This editor would never get tired of reminding me to always triple check each claim made by a source. Reason? Each source has his or her interests to push in the story. So, as a reporter you better keep this at the back of your mind. The sixth sense in journalism I would say is being a little bit skeptical about all you hear until you have verified it.

In this era of social media many reporters are rushing to break the news. Never mind if the news is backed by facts or not. It’s now words like BREAKING, BREAKING screaming on their social media timelines and websites.

The recent incident at Bukara, Kabarole district has many of my friends question the credibility of what is usually reported in the media.

Well, all I am saying here is simple logic. If the case reported were rape, no professional police officer can take such a case lightly; and let alone release the suspect on police bond. Rape is a capital offence. In a civil case of adultery the conflicting parties can be advised to settle it amicably, which is what happened.
However, someone later advised the suspect to press assault and torture charges against the man who had been offended at first. As the authorities moved to arrest the assault suspect,  some irate residents of Bukara attacked the crime preventers and later on police officers. Suddenly, the local police spokeswoman and some local leaders in Police in their wanton search to absolve the police of any wrong doing, they sought to divert attention. Target? Rwenzori region has of recent been “a hot bed of ethnic tensions”. Conclusion? Bukara incident is “tribal”! The reporter falls in this trap of stereotypes that have been created about Rwenzori.

Such stereotypes like: “Africa is one country, Africa is poverty, Africa is disease, famine, conflict, etc” just show how little the media is helping demystifying these attitudes. My point? Rwenzori not always about ethnic conflict.

Give me a break! What happening to the news values of accuracy and objectivity?

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