Last week, James Wire (@wirejames) opined on Why The Ugandan Public Ignored The Media Siege.  According to James Wire, Ugandans took the spectators’ stand as police launched their mission to find a general’s letter because their minds have been adjusted.

By who? The media. From what to what? From being bothered by “serious issues of life and instead appreciate the softer and less important aspects” such as “women nudity, alcohol binges, serial daters, sex scandals, drivers of monstrous cars like Hummers” in the end creating celebrities out of nothing.

When have Ugandans had the eye for “serious issues?” I wondered to myself. While the author gives no parameters to gauge “serious issues” and less pertinent ones, beneath his words I sensed a disease. One that you will see any day if you are keen. Almost anywhere in Uganda.

I call it a disease but maybe it is some seed that society instills in Ugandans. Most Ugandans. The “Keep Off If It Doesn’t Concern You & Blame Others When You Can” attitude towards almost everything. James talks about trivia being the reason why Ugandans didn’t join in but maybe Ugandans (including some journalists) kept off because they’ve found comfort in not caring and when reality bites, they blame someone.

The media siege left many lessons (which I hope have been noted) in its wake but James’ assertion is just a presumptive version of the story that doesn’t cast the spotlight on the real problem that Ugandans are pregnant with. Somewhere, James challenges the media to “start sensitizing [we] the public on the kind of issues that will increase our alertness as civil society…” That sounds like the media hasn’t done that and therefore needs to start. I disagree.

During the 2011 Walk-To-Work campaign, the Ugandan media covered the attempts of a handful of people to highlights the rising food prices and deteriorating healthcare in Uganda. The campaign was a chance for citizens to collectively take part in efforts to pass on a message that some things were not right. One year later, police brutality towards the protesters coupled with dismal public involvement extinguished the gusto.

Photojournalists captured men being thrown onto pickup trucks like heaps of hay, television journalists withstood the teargas clouds to report live from the scene not to mention the flogging and detention. The work of the Fourth Estate by any forecast would have triggered a wave of concern; hordes of people would have joined in but instead, they looked on. Others heckled. “That Besigye guy needs to go back to the village.”

Then the Black Monday Movement swept ashore, its campaign was riding on the backdrop of numerous media reports that almost every second, Ugandan taxpayers’ money disappears into ambiguous projects, insatiable pockets and little or no justice is served. Once again, a chance for Ugandans to lump together and call for change.

“So you think black will make a difference?” A colleague asked me. “That campaign is just hopeless!” They added. And many Ugandans thought so too! And that Ugandan will go on how this country is sinking down the hole of greed!! If the many media reports on corruption haven’t pushed an individual to take action, I can’t think of many things that will.

James not only accuses the media erroneously for not sensitizing the public on “serious issues” (not sure that is the work of the media) but also questions the relevance of features. “Why is it important to publish the A List of rich people in Kampala for example? Why should Hyena invest so much time and effort in concocting sexually explicit articles and still get publishing space from the Red Pepper daily?”

I hear a round of applause on Hyena’s column from the moralists but the features writer is reaching for an egg. James comes off as oblivious that for so long, “serious” news has fought for space with celebrity gossip, movie reviews, latest fashion trends… The effects of how the industry milks these topics continues to brew concern but yes, it is important to publish the list ranking the richest (many Forbes writers earn off compiling such lists) because it is as part of the media content package and the relevance of such information is why many actually consume information.

The local media has quite a journey to cover in terms of achieving excellence. That journey now comes with 21st century challenges such as the growing influence of the advertiser and the threat that represents. But while we throw stones of rhetoric at the media, we need to acknowledge a broader problem in which almost all of us, save for a few, are mired. The Ugandan society exudes and reeks of passive activism. The list is lengthy. From grumbling Ugandan football fans who can’t actively call for an end to a regime that has a phobia for accountability and transparency to the passengers who don’t mind even when the fare is doubled for no reason. Worryingly, many members of the Fourth Estate are victims of the bug that causes unassertiveness.

James’ assertion heaps blame on a vital arm of society that surely can’t take all the blame here. Maybe things are the way they are because as a society, we choose to brush off the bird poop and are okay with the stain that leaves instead of throwing the shirt in a bucket full of lathered water. And the media can’t be the detergent to do the cleaning entirely. It needs to start somewhere from within. Admitting that the next chapter of the media siege might be at your offices. Picking up that newspaper and looking out for those articles that spell doom (they are there) and getting concerned. Asking “How can I be part of the solution?”questions and going ahead to participate.  It is high time this growing level of “clicktivism” was accentuated with more action.

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  1. James does raise some pertinent and critical issues in his piece however I think he was being overly idealistic in his thinking. It is true that the media shapes the thought chain of the populace. However, in a Country like Uganda, there is not too much that the media can comfortably do without being questioned or halted by the Government. When you have a Government that is breathing down your neck and limiting your every move, there is not too much real legitimate media reporting you can do. That said, considering the circumstances, I believe the media in Uganda is actually working overtime to try and do the duty that the media should do which is open people’s minds. I don’t know if James has been watching how Journalists have been roughed up in the not so distant past here in Uganda as they attempt to go about their duty of informing the public.

    The issue about the media being engrossed in reporting about non-issues is not exactly well placed. Even the seemingly useless news that is reported is news. This is something that he needs to appreciate. When the list of rich Ugandans is published, it is not so much that it is the most important news but rather an eye opener to the people to know more about their own country and the people they share citizenship with. This is why in most news packages you will find Politics and Current affairs, Sports and Games, Leisure and Humour, Business and Trade, etc. All these are meant to cover a wide spectrum of the population. If you are going to have only ‘serious news’ then you are going to alienate some of the people.

    Overall, like I said, I agree that James has some real worthwhile issues he raises but he ought to be a little fairer to the Ugandan Media which in my opinion has come under very tough times in the recent past.

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