Death of truth or birth of ‘news as you want’?

Friday August 16 2019



Odoobo C. Bichachi

Odoobo C. Bichachi  

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

Coverage of the death of Michael Kalinda, aka Zigy Wyne, last week following injuries and short hospitalisation has left Uganda’s media with a lot of egg on its face. One could say the same for social media in Uganda, but because it has no face, there is nowhere to leave egg! Many people were asking; what’s the difference, anyway?
It all started after Sunday Vision in a spectacular splash, announced that the “musician,” who had been missing for more than a week, had been found in Mulago Hospital. That he had been kidnapped, tortured, two fingers chopped off, one eye gouged out, and part of the body burnt with a flat iron. This information was given by a family member and corroborated by presidential aspirant Robert Kyagulanyi, aka Bobi Wine, who said Zigy was his supporter and member of his music recording studio.
It was picked up by other media, including Daily Monitor . All coverage in the mainstream as well as social media somewhat pointed to complicity by government security agencies as being behind the kidnap and torture. We were kept abreast of his deteriorating health until his demise.
Acres of space was given to People Power ‘leadership’, who denounced the government. The police were left confused and clueless. It was not expected to do any better. It has not done well in the past and could even have been complicit.
As it turned out, all this was far from the truth! Zigy Wyne, by official police account, was a victim of a motorcycle accident and the injuries were not torture marks, they arose from the accident. Police stumbled on this after Zigy was dead and despite parading witnesses and the wreckage, it took a while before mainstream media accepted this version. Social media activists aligned to People Power rejected this version, as did their leader.
New Vision has since apologised to readers. That is good. The rest of the media have not; they have simply moved to the next story. Not good! How did we come to this point?
Part of the answer can, perhaps, be found in Michiko Kakutani’s book, Death of Truth – in the social media age. He writes: “This ‘kaleidoscope of information options’… has resulted in outlets like Fox News that uphold a certain ideology rather than being impartial, and a media landscape where ‘the truth is wholly a matter of perspective and agenda’.”
He adds: “These outlets respond to news in a knee-jerk fashion that tends to ignore facts, data and evidence. Fans of these outlets respond in kind, either ignoring real evidence or dismissing it as information that was created… In other words, people are only letting in the information with which they’re predisposed to agree – a development known as confirmation bias. This creates partisan silos or content silos – structures people build around themselves to contain only the information that fits their preferred story.”
He may have been writing about American media and its consumers, but a lot of the reporting (and reading) in the Uganda media is beginning to fall in this pattern where journalists carry their biases into the news and readers respond to the news from the perspective their biases. This was very apparent in the Zigy Wyne coverage; journalists didn’t interrogate the facts because they fitted their pattern and the readers consumed what fulfilled their biases.
To get out of this so that mainstream media acts as a buffer against “fake news” and “news as you want”, journalists need to return to the basics – check, double check, and carry a good dose of scepticism towards every story. Daily Monitor and NTV journalists can find anchor in two provisions of the Nation Media Editorial Policy Guidelines quoted below.
First: “Veracity and accuracy in reporting are an integral part of editorial policy and editors will only publish that which they believe to be true, fair and accurate. Every effort will be made to ascertain the factual accuracy of articles through, for instance, cross-checking of facts and the mandatory use of tape-recorders or other recording devices.”
Second: “While recognising the fact that as individuals, journalists would ordinarily have their own political views and/or political party affiliations or religious affiliations, journalists working for the Group are expected to subordinate their individual political or religious views and to remain apolitical and neutral on religious matters in the course of discharging their official duties so as not to allow their political or religious affiliations or views to influence their editorial judgment.”