Story-Based Inquiry, an investigative journalism handbook published by Unesco, defines investigative journalism as a genre of journalism that involves exposing to the public matters that are concealed–either deliberately by someone in a position of power, or accidentally, behind a chaotic mass of facts and circumstances that obscure understanding. While the Dutch-Flemish investigative journalism group VVOJ defines investigative reporting simply as “critical and in-depth journalism”.
The above definitions clearly need to be understood by police, especially its detectives in the Criminal Investigations Department, who last month summoned editors of online publications to answer questions related to stories of leaked bank account details of Ms Justine Bagyenda, the former executive director for banks supervision at Bank of Uganda.
Those summoned to appear at the CID headquarters for questioning were Giles Muhame of ChimpReports, Richard Wanambwa of Eagle Online, Deo Ssenono of Business Focus, Darius Mugisha of Matooke Republic, Andrew Irumba of Spy Uganda and John Njoroge of CEO Magazine.
The summons came a few weeks before the President highlighted a 10-point strategy of addressing increased criminality in the country while addressing Parliament on Wednesday. In his new 10-point arrangement, the President emphasised the need to have cameras in different parts of the country, besides introducing scanners to check all containers entering and leaving the country, among others.
However, what was left out on the new strategies was the element of relevance of investigative journalism in society today. Investigative journalism is ideally a mechanism that helps policymakers identify government officials who are against their ethical standards. Besides murders and kidnaps, Ugandans are still facing corruption-related challenges, especially in government institutions.
Ms Bagyenda, for instance, came under fire after Bank of Uganda took over the management of Crane Bank in 2016 over allegations of mismanagement. Those who spoke out in defence of Crane Bank argued that part of the problem was that it was poorly supervised by Bank of Uganda.
As the officer in charge of banks’ supervision, Ms Bagyenda became a subject of interest to the press, and the online publications in question took interest in the leaked bank details that depicted Ms Bagyenda as very rich.
When the account details were published, Ms Bagyenda never denied having such huge amounts of monies on her accounts, but only argued that it was invasion of her privacy for the publications to make public the details of the bank accounts. The concerned banks reacted by reprimanding or vowing to reprimand the employees they suspected to have leaked the details.
As part of their responsibilities, investigative journalists are expected to expose such information to enable the public know what is happening in public offices. Exposing this information indeed enables the public to know whether government officials really give in right information about their wealth as required by the leadership code of conduct.
What police detectives need to know is the fact that investigative journalism involves publishing information that in many cases would be hidden from the public. It was, therefore, surprising that the police have until now not updated the public on whether they are investigating the claims made about Ms Bagyenda’s wealth and if so how far they have gone, but have only been active in gagging publication of stories about Ms Bagyenda.
Before summoning the editors over Ms Bagyenda’s stories, couldn’t police first ask her to make a statement on how she allegedly amassed such wealth and whether what was leaked to the public is in tandem with what she declared to the Inspectorate of government?
Good enough, the summoned journalists have shown no fear in the midst of intimidation.