Academics in general are expected to contribute to national issues through research and service. As such, their promotions are tagged to scholarly contributions to either policy or practice.
For any academic, the research, policy and practice arenas are intertwined and are expected to feed each other. It does not always work this way, especially where policy makers have little appreciation for the role of scholars and evidence in policy making or when researchers are incapable of meaningfully engaging policy makers.
One of the most influential texts in explaining this relationship is Nancy Baron’s 2010 publication, Escape from the Ivory Tower: A Guide to Making Your Science Matter. I have used the text over the years to support researchers in making their findings accessible to a larger audience.
At the heart of the book is the idea that much research could be taken up by the media, publicised and utilised by policy makers if better communicated, thus dramatically increasing research uptake. Although the book is limited on broader mechanisms to ensure that scientists make their research matter to a wider audience, it does provide an incredible resource for scientists to simplify their complex work.
By scientists, I mean all in the business of creating new ideas, even researchers in the social sciences and humanities.
As I wrote this column, I was preparing for the Prof Monica Chibita Professorial Inaugural Lecture on January 17 at Uganda Christian University, Mukono. Prof Chibita was promoted to a full professor of Communication on May 23 last year.
The inaugural lecture brings her scholarly journey to life, highlighting her search for new knowledge in her areas of expertise. This provides the wider community with existing knowledge, but also inspire younger academics who may learn from her journey.
The theme of the Professorial Inaugural Lecture, ‘Between Freedom and Regulation: Reflections on Uganda’s Communication Landscape,’ captures the specific contributions Prof Chibita has made to both policy and practice.
Prof Chibita obtained a Doctor of Literature and Philosophy (Communication) degree from the University of South Africa. Her Thesis title was ‘Indigenous language programming and citizen participation in Uganda’s broadcasting: an exploratory study,’ 2006. She also obtained an MA in Journalism from the University of Iowa, 1992, and BA Education from Makerere University in 1986.
Many of her publications focus on indigenous language broadcasting and media policy.
While I cannot go through her entire scholarly work, her most influential text remains The evolution of media policy in Uganda, published by the Journal of African Communication Research in 2010.
It was my first brush with her work while conducting my research on ‘the policy, legal and regulatory framework for media in Uganda’ in 2012. My co-supervisor, Prof Levi Obonyo of Daystar University, who at the time was the chairperson of Media Council of Kenya, had told me, ‘please read Monica Chibita’.
Although The evolution of media policy in Uganda analyses media policy in Uganda according to the different political phases of Uganda’s history, it places into context media policy and regulation and their incentives and implications for journalism. I found her writing interesting, like an outsider.
For instance, she concludes, ‘over the years, governments have concentrated on enacting laws to deal with short term concerns rather than articulating policy for the long term, and have left the interpretation of the limits of media freedom in Uganda to individual journalists. This forces journalists to self-censor’. She then points to the tensions between the State and media, predicting tougher times ahead. Her research had motivated mine.
Moreover, it is her work as a researcher for the industry that has contributed to policy development. Prof Chibita was the principle researcher on a study titled ‘The National Electronic Media Performance Study’, 2004 that informed the first draft National Broadcasting Policy 2004.
Although the policy remained in a draft form after being passed by Cabinet, aspects of it were implemented by 2013. She repeated the electronic study in 2014, whose report was adopted by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to form part of the empirical basis for a review of the National Broadcasting Policy and legislation, specifically national broadcasting (content) guidelines.
The contribution to industry can be traced to her membership on then Broadcasting Council and The New Vision Board, which she chaired from 2017 to end of 2019 when her term on the board ended. Besides teaching most journalists in Uganda since her Makerere University days, she has mentored many of us into teaching journalism.
Whenever I teach media policy, law and regulation for our Master’s students, Prof Chibita always sits in my classes, asking questions and taking notes more than the students. It always amuses me. Yet, that has taught me to be a learner, facilitating learning rather than a teacher. I hope that the faculty of Journalism, Media and Communication will learn from her and also influence policy and practice in our areas of expertise.
Maractho is the head and senior lecturer, Department of Journalism and Media studies at UCU.