Free media is often described as the fourth estate, the gatekeeper, the whistleblower, and many more. American singer Jim Morrison once said, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” No wonder governments worldwide try hard to control the press. But the media itself, particularly in Uganda, faces a severe identity crisis that requires urgent action, writes guest commentator Jimmy Spire Ssentongo.
It is no exaggeration to refer to the media as the fourth arm of government – though I must emphasise that it must act independently of the government. Since media is so crucial to our lives, people will always create alternative forms of communication whenever there is a vacuum. Even under the most invasive forms of state surveillance, people will find ways of communicating whatever they want to.
The American singer, songwriter, and poet Jim Morrison once said: “Whoever controls the media controls the mind [s of people].” Hence states will always desire to influence a vibrant media or find ways of controlling it. Many regimes have also sought to establish their media, which often becomes a crucial player in shaping their desired narratives or countering unwanted truths.
But why should we be concerned about the media now? Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, several private Ugandan media houses struggled to survive. The rise of the internet, and the falling reading habits, had continually battered newspaper readership and sales. As a result, the reliance on generating revenue was increasingly left to adverts rather than sales. Yet, ironically, sales (real and perceived) still influenced the attraction of adverts.
Clamouring for government ad revenues
On the other hand, television and radio entered a cutthroat competition for advertisers due to the rapid increase in their numbers and national distribution. In a way, this was good for the public. The era when Radio Uganda, Uganda Television, and a few newspapers held a monopoly on shaping national narratives was gone. The people had a wide range of outlets to choose from. At the same time, though, media houses struggled for survival. Perhaps greed compromised many of them through business entanglements that made it difficult for them to report independently.
The Ugandan government is undoubtedly the biggest advertiser. It would be difficult for any traditional media to survive if the government starved them of adverts. Yet still, even if media houses banked on private companies, the government has a strong hand in big companies’ business/alliance choices in a polity like ours. As a result, some would shun critical media houses not to be perceived as ‘anti-government’.
Conflicts of interest
When media income mainly comes from giant company adverts, it leaves several questions on how far the media can go in independently reporting about the same companies that foot most, if not all, the media house’s bills. Moreover, it is an open secret that many private media houses struggle to pay their journalists, hence creating a breeding ground for unethical practices that further compromise the quality of reporting.
In many African countries, including Uganda, it is not unusual for reporters to ask for ‘facilitation’ or the so-called brown envelope from those whose events they cover. So how can we expect them to report fairly and objectively after being ‘facilitated’?
Another challenge that came with the liberalisation of media is the fall in reporting standards. Media experts blame competition on who breaks stories first as the main reason for this shortcoming. Social media has allowed everyone to become a reporter without journalistic or editorial qualifications. Bloggers and ‘influencers’ pull thousands onto their social media channels for news, gossip, and quick ‘analysis’.
By the time traditional media are ready to report, the news is already stale – sometimes because it is “harvested” without improvement from social media trending topics that the public has already exhausted. As a result, some media houses have had to adapt by venturing more into investigative stories less prone to time vagaries.
The burden of fact-checking and verification
The rapid increase in news sources has inadvertently increased the burden of sieving and verifying information disseminated to the public. In addition, the complex mix of truths and misinformation has made it difficult for gullible masses to tell what to take or leave.
For example, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic that demanded credible information on the virus, its causes, treatment, and vaccination has been characterised by unprecedented confusion, partly occasioned by media challenges.
Anyone could wake up any day and initiate a narrative about a drug/cure, propaganda about vaccines, chaos relating to Covid protocols, and cause undue panic to the public. Such confusion conveniently feeds into the hands of governments that already wanted opportunities for tightening their grip on media and purging dissent. Censorship in the name of “fighting Covid-19” thus heightened.
Adapting to changing times
While we’ve had a high price to pay, the vast lessons should not be lost on us. One of the fundamental questions remains: How can the media fund itself without getting compromised?
It is encouraging that many media houses are learning how to innovate and adapt to changing times, especially by tapping into online revenues.
The other question is how to regulate media professionalism without undue censorship. Government’s detrimental conflicts of interest call for more actors. This necessitates a more robust civil society engagement in building and protecting media sustainability and viability.
Report by Aga Khan University’s Media Innovation Centre analyses the country’s millennials and digital natives’ media consumption habits.
For the media to flourish, and the society to have free flow of accurate and verifiable information, journalists, the drivers in the passing of information are expected to be well grounded in laws and the legal aspect pertaining to the job, writes Alfred Ganzo.
Pitching provides numerous opportunities for your new or existing business ideas to be discovered and realized; and as Simon Mtabazi writes, some startups have become billion-dollar companies due to efffevie pitches
The success you achieve with your media startup business will heavily rely on your reputation as a trustworthy company, and as Nandi Mwiyombella writes, it will also open a new window for customers and potential investors.
That’s why I think today is such a great space for us to sit back and reflect on the questions that could help us shape the kind of journalism that we want to see in our local and global community.
The report specifically analysed eight major variables which include: newsroom structure and resources, media ownership and business models, organisational capacity, innovation culture, journalism culture, financial trends and results, content quality and COVID-19.
Mudi, in her role as Media Council of Kenya regional coordinator in charge of Mombasa(covering the entire coastal region), has found herself at the forefront in advocating and fighting to protect journalists’ rights, culminating in her being awarded for her peace efforts in the run-up and during the 2022 general elections in Kenya.
The 2022 general elections have been mentally draining for journalists, some of whom have had to stay on the campaign trail for over a year. Others have had to toy with the tough call of managing teams in the newsroom. East Site’s Isaac Swila and political writer Rawlings Otieno recount their experiences
What role did social media influencers play in the election? What voice did they give in political discourses during and around the election period? And to what extent did political candidates involve the influencers in marketing their manifestos to sway votes in their favour? East Site writer Steven Omondi unpacks the details
The media industry is experiencing enormous transformation as new digital trends emerge. With the vast opportunities that the digital space offers, media owners and content producers must deliberately adapt to how the audience consumes content.
With the increased Digital Technology at the palm of just anybody; there are a lot of information that distort whether deliberately or not highlighting the need of robust Fact0checking as Asha D. Abinallah explains
Is there a danger in media personalities having a vibrant social media presence? Assuming they have a massive media following, should they self-regulate and filter what they post? And when they engage with followers, should their opinions be taken as personal, or does it represent the journalist’s media house? East Site writer Isaac Swila explores
Media stakeholders are raising concerns over the lack of gender-inclusive reporting in East African newsrooms. They want concerted efforts to ensure more female journalists get equal opportunities like their male counterparts.
The partnership will also ensure that local content is curated and distributed to better optimize the product and meet the needs of Kenyan online users.
The news industry is constantly changing, and in the last few years, User Generated Content (UGC) has become a ubiquitous feature in news sourcing and packaging. However, media houses and journalists need to establish verification and credibility safeguards to avoid the misinformation trap.
Reporting on elections is, for many journalists, an opportunity to establish themselves as reliable political reporters. But the task comes with certain risks, particularly in the East African sub-region.
Stakeholders are now calling for concerted efforts, better planning and preparations for journalists before they are sent out on the field to cover Kenya’s high-stakes August 9 General Elections.
East Africa’s media grapples with a myriad of challenges whenever general elections approach. Not only do editors struggle with balancing the competing political interests, at times at the altar of professionalism, but individual journalists pay dearly, many suffering attacks in the course of their duties.
As Form One students settle into a new life in secondary school, this has also been a period of reflection. We have read tear-jerking and heart-warming stories of determined students who overcame many odds to get an education and how well-wishers came together in their aid.
There is renewed optimism in the Tanzanian media space following the ascension to power of President Samia Suluhu whose regime is keen to relax some of the laws deemed punitive to journalists and media houses
Uganda fell behind, whereas Kenya improved its press freedom ranking in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 Press Freedom Index. And after years of media freedom decline, Tanzania appears to be on the right track. But overall, media freedom activists say there is still work to be done.
A free and independent press is the cornerstone of any democracy and the foundation of economic success, mostly because through our free press, we’re able to hold the leadership to account.
To align with the changing times and stay relevant in the business, media houses are challenged to rethink their strategy and to adopt and understand obstacles and challenges they face towards rethinking and exploring alternative sources of revenue and on developing the digital strategy.
A team of young, Tanzanian tech-savvy communication professionals is dreaming big. It seeks to usher a new dawn in media business management in Tanzania by optimising employee output and offering consultancy to media businesses on how they can operate with a minimal budget but still attain their goals.
Bloggers and influencers have become an integral component of information sourcing across East Africa. The public uses blogs, privately run websites and social networks to crowdsource information from social networks, which they then publish and distribute. But it’s not all rosy for this group of content makers.
The chances of meeting a medical graduate practising journalism are usually very slim, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But two Tanzanian physicians have broken away from that norm by inventing a start-up called Afyatoon. It uses visual art technology to tell compelling medical stories. They narrate to the EAST Site their experience and share their vision for the future.
Did you know that in 2021 Kenyans watched less TV and spent more time on social media? Or that some Kenyans rely on family, friends, or even social media icons and bloggers as a source of news and information? These are some of the conclusions highlighted in the 2021 State of the Media Survey conducted by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).
The effects of the Covid pandemic continue to change the world in ways we had not imagined possible. The media is going through a painful transformation to keep up with changing production, distribution and consumption habits. In East Africa, Uganda’s Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) recently hosted a panel discussion on Media Viability comprising experienced journalists from Television, Radio, Print and Online/Digital media to address lessons learned from the pandemic. East Site’s Moses Mutente attended the panel and compiled this article.
In this commentary, Uganda-based journalist Caleb Okereke shares deep personal insights into why media schools in East Africa must rethink their curriculum. He stresses the need for trainers to begin teaching media ownership to better equip journalism students for the dynamic and cutthroat job market by taking us through his journey as a journalism student and media owner.
For the second year running, a survey commissioned by the Media Council of Kenya shows that the trust level in Kenyan media has nosedived, raising fundamental questions on how media will play its watchdog role more so with landmark elections set for August 9. EAST Site writer Isaac Swila explores.
Legacy media is currently caught between a rock and a hard place — the Covid pandemic and the rise and proliferation of social media has hit revenues hard. Some say this could signal the end of news as we used to know it. However, Ugandan decorated journalist Ernest Bazanye believes the industry will survive and thrive, but not without a fight.