Readers speak on story of Arua boy who ‘stole’ bus

Friday January 10 2020

 

By Odoobo C. Bichachi

My column of December 6 titled, “Did Arua boy steal bus” elicited several comments and rejoinders from readers. I have picked two of them as a peg for my first column of the year. I will attempt to answer as best as I can.

Busein Samilu: “I am a features and investigative writer at the Sunrise newspaper. Let me begin with thanking you for your teaching and motivating opinions about journalism. Second, I read your opinion about the Arua boy who reportedly stole a bus. You analysed how the reporters and their editors cheated the reader, which is true, and I want to agree with all your arguments. However, you may want to remember that;

1. Almost all media houses including NMG-Uganda have at least 60 per cent of their employees as freelance. You know what freelance means; you are paid per story so how do you expect someone to waste a lot of time on one story?

2. Social Media: The mainstream media has to date failed to control social media. Instead of we driving it, it is the vice vasa.

3. Poor funding of investigation: By this time I would not expect to see daily news stories leading in weekend editions of The Monitor and New Vision. You people are not prioritising investigative stories! For instance, there is a time when Saturday Vision carried a headline, “Another Rwandan killed”, but after few hours it was realised that it was a Ugandan woman. Ugandan weekend papers are basically relying on daily stories; I think that is a shame.

4. Agenda setting: Although it is a responsibility of media to set the agenda, we have failed. For example, we allow fake stories to overtake impactful stories.

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The only paper in Uganda that writes complete stories is the East African and if I am to read and enjoy, I forego some things and get myself a copy. Kindly address me on how stories can be enlarged to suit what you demand in the situation that journalists are working under. Thanks.”

Public Editor: Thanks for your compliments and pointed questions. The issues you raise are core to the crisis of journalism in Uganda. They do not, however, absolve editors and reporters from doing a basic job that many times they fail and hence cheat or mislead readers. Fidelity to the journalism code of ethics is sacrosanct whether one is a staff reporter or freelancer.

Yes, mainstream media should prioritise investigative, enterprise and day-two journalism as a primary value add-on for readers in this era of social media. Inadequate funding is often raised as the reason we are not doing these stories but that is only half the problem.

The other half – very critical as well – is the skills levels, mindset, attention to detail, curiosity and inquisitiveness of reporters and editors. These must be at the level above social media journalism. We can debate where our newsrooms stand on this.

As regards agenda setting role of media, it comes to the same thing; skills, planning, experience, drive to excel by reporters and editors, etc. Again we can debate how much of this is in the newsrooms today beyond churning out routine stories.
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Diana Bamanya: “I enjoy reading your online paper every once in a while when I get a minute or two. But today I landed on this OPED [‘Did Arua boy steal bus?”], it was both funny and well written with so many questions that where left unanswered. Am writing because I really want to know what happened; I can’t find a really well reported story about it! I guess you call me curious because I am.

Public Editor: Thanks for your feedback, kind thoughts and compliments. Yes the story was incomplete and there has been no follow up by the media. As to your curiosity about what really happened, I did get feedback from a few readers in Arua who claim the boy washes vehicles at a nearby washing bay and had argued with colleagues that he could drive a bus.

So he walked into one and drove off! Apparently he learnt how to drive small vehicles and light commercial vehicles at the washing bay where he has to shift one vehicle from one place to another. I have not verified this but it is perhaps a good pointer.

The media – social and mainstream – missed this because they primarily relied on a single police source. That’s the problem we are trying to address with the editors and reporters.

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