These days, it is very common to hear the lamention that traditional media, especially the newspaper, is dead or dying for sure. That there are fewer people buying newspapers and reading them. That the number of people depending on television or radio for news are dwindling, opting instead for social media. That the latter is attractive because it is colourful, free for all and bold as there is no censorship from the cautious and ‘compromised’ editors.
With social media, one can use their gadget to say anything about anyone or anything without bothering about its accuracy. Social media is candid unlike the traditional media where the proverbial sword of Damocles of the autocratic authorities hangs over media houses. This restricts their freedom thus allowing them to say little or nothing at times. So why violently beat up and deter a journalist, who is gathering news for a paper, which reaches less than 50,000 people? Why erase their footage yet you know that not many will view it on TV? Or better still, why destroy it when you know it may be captured on smartphones and uploaded on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube for millions to partake?
There are various reasons, the best being the conflicted nature of those in power. Politicians love crowds, but they are also aware that only a handful of people really matter when it comes to true and honest relationships.
Despite what people think, people in power are human. This includes the bravest of generals with blood on their hands. They have parents, wives, children, friends and acquaintances to whom they would want to appear as heroes and act as good examples of morality.
They wake up like all parents preaching the importance of integrity and values in life if one is to be respected by society. They care about how this small number of people perceive them. But then, duty calls and they have to understand that at times, one may have to break the rules and go against what they preach to the children.
You may need to crack some skulls and draw blood in order to maintain the status quo that is responsible for the soft beds, delicious greasy food, the cozy mansion and the fuel guzzling four wheel drives. It may also call for the father, who tells their children about integrity and honesty dipping his hands in the kitty. If such a story is published, there are chances that at least one of those whose opinion matters to a politician, gets to read the embarrassing story.
Now traditional media, for all its weaknesses – real and imagined - has one asset about it which may never go away or may take a long time to disappear. For ages, traditional media ruled the roost and is still the go-to place for truth and reliable information. Generally speaking, it has built a reputation of being believable. Its equivalent is what people these days call the ‘old churches’ (the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches.) Unlike the Charismatics and Pentecostals that have exciting services with song, dance and miracle healing, the ‘old churches’ had and still maintain some rigid or conservative ‘harsh’ standards, which many believers resonate with the message of the blunt reality of heaven and hell.
That is why many born again Christians will still go to the ‘old churches’ for important sacraments like matrimony then go sing and dance in the ‘new churches.’
Seasoned politicians know that society shares a similar trait. They know that some of those who really matter in their lives, including their wives, families, pastors, officials of foreign governments, investors, etc, will always reach out for newspapers and listen to news on TV or radio at least to get the gist of a matter.
Also researchers and others will always seek credible information from the archives that media houses have kept overtime. Stopping information going there is crucial to any politician worth their salt.
The battering of Reuters cameraman, James Akena by UPDF officers even when he raised his hands in the air and stopped filming the protests in Kampala makes sense in that direction. So do the other violent acts against other journalists.
Most times, social media picks up well sieved stories and footage from traditional media. Next, the stories are sexed up, edited, photoshoped and garnished with lies, juicy gossip and exaggeration for the pleasure of the multitudes. This at times is overdone and denies such reports credibility.
A good politician, therefore, would rather have millions reading a story on social media where they may discredit it as ‘gossip by emotionally charged irresponsible people, than have it seen by a few people in traditional media as ‘the truth.’
The beating of journalists is the quest by those in power to kill traditional media, which is viewed as ‘already dead.’ Why? Because they know that it is alive to those who matter most in their lives.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter:@nsengoba