A one Ivan Samuel Ssebadduka has petitioned the Constitutional Court to rule on whether it is right for believers of Islam to refer to God as Allah and equate “their prophet Issa” to Jesus Christ whom Christians believe is the son of God, according to the Daily Monitor edition of Wednesday, October 23 (see “Man sues Muslims for naming God as Allah”).
Quite an unusual suit that undoubtedly caught the attention of many readers. One such reader was John Wanyama, who called to ask why Daily Monitor splashed on its cover such a “frivolous story that should have been in the entertainment pages or in Odds & Bits section of the paper”.
His main issue was that the suit is misconceived, without basis and cannot be enforced on anyone.
He also said the story did not answer many questions; it didn’t bring in voices of the leaders of the Christian community and lawyers. He said while courts are obliged to receive everything brought before them and make a determination, the media has no obligation to pick up anything and publish and if anything, religion is a sensitive matter and one shouldn’t simply get a platform to stoke religious sentiments.
I explained to John that editors make decision every day on what stories to run and with what prominence based on the news docket that is discussed at the morning and afternoon news conference. It was, therefore, in the editors’ right to publish the said story on the cover if they were convinced that it met many news values.
The eight basic news values are: Timeliness, currency, unusual, human interest, magnitude, prominence, conflict and proximity.
Indeed, the said story did tick off a number of these values. However, Wanyama was right to say the story left many questions in the minds of the readers as it did not explore any aspects of the story beyond what was presented in the suit and the routine comment to “balance the story.”
Because the matter has not been heard by the judges, or even been scheduled for hearing, so it is not subject of the sub-judice rule, there was a great opportunity to answer the so what questions in the mind of the readers as well as bring perspective and expert opinion.
The story could, for example, have stated that God or Allah is not a physical object that one can touch or feel, but is a concept humanity generally holds about the beginning of life, the universe, destiny and other such metaphysical things. This concept is referred to by different names in different communities. God is English, Allah is Arabic, Katonda is Luganda, Kibumba is Lugwere/Lusoga, Nasaye is Lusamia/Lugwe, Ruhanga in Ankole, Imana in Kinyarwanda, Lubanga in Acholi, Mungu is Kiswahili, etc!
So the story could have helped bring the aspect of language to the readers and what the implications of a suit against those who refer to God as Allah and vice versa would have on those that refer to God as Katonda, Lubanga, etc. In fact the head of the Christian Coptic/Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria (whom I was privileged to meet), refers to God as Allah because in Egypt, they speak Arabic. The Orthodox Church of Alexandria was founded by St Mark, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ.
Speaking to the bishops in Rubaga, Namungoona and Namirembe on what they make of the unusual suit, rather than just the sheiks of Kibuli and Old Kampala “for balance” could have brought more perspective to the reader and clarified a few more questions.
A legal perspective from a renowned lawyer could have added to the completeness of the story and answered some of the readers’ questions. For instance, who has the locus to sue on behalf of a faith/concept and on who can orders be served – a sheik or a bishop? – on a matter that is universal?
This would have helped the readers to decide whether Ssebadduka is engaged in an exercise in futility or not, and whether this is a matter that only serves to clog the court system. Although there was reference to a Malaysian Court entertaining a similar suit, the information was too scanty to be of good use to the reader.
My conclusion, therefore, is that editors should always aim to answer as many questions of the readers as possible. This becomes even more important when it is an unusual story. Readers are excited about unusual stories, but are satisfied with complete stories.
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