Is investigative journalism in Uganda thriving or dying?

Friday October 23 2020
comment01pix

Mr Odoobo C. Bichachi

By Odoobo Charles Bichachi

Yesterday, I had the privilege to join a distinguished panel of journalists, at the invitation of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism headed by the indefatigable Solomon Serwanja, to contribute my two cents on the topic: ‘State of Investigative Journalism in Uganda.’ 

Many readers have reached out to me in the past to complain about the scarcity of investigative journalism in the Uganda media generally. Rightly or wrongly, this is a perception that persists among media consumers and practitioners as well. 

It was, therefore, great that journalists came together to ask themselves questions as to where we are in terms of this important genre of journalism. 
So do we have more or less investigative journalism in the Uganda media today? 

I tried to search online for any study on investigative journalism in Uganda, but could not find anything concrete. A challenge there for media scholars! 
My view on where we are is, therefore, not grounded on data. It is based on personal observation and experience.

Human beings tend to live for the moment and will see things within the context of the moment. Yes, I do see a number of investigative stories in Uganda’s media – print and television – today. But these stories are far between, which is perhaps the reason many readers/viewers think we have little of it.

The areas where a lot of investigative journalism can be seen is the environment. The environmental journalists have been outstanding in exposing and unearthing information about forests, lakes, etc. New Vision’s story about the state of Lake Victoria a few years ago was pacesetting. 

Advertisement

There has been a little bit of investigative journalism around governance and accountability (read corruption). ‘Unmasking the goons’ in Daily Monitor a few years ago, was outstanding investigative journalism. 

Unfortunately, corruption stories are not popular with audiences because no amount of theft of public resources shocks them anymore. So headlines on corruption don’t sell and on TV, viewers switch channels. 

There is, however, almost no investigative journalism in business (a good excuse is advertiser pressures), and very little around education and health, etc. 

NBS series on theft of medicine last year was outstanding. It is worth noting that today, lot of the investigative stories published are a result of leaks from whistleblowers to IGG and the reporting rarely goes beyond what has been given to the reporter in those dozen A4 pages except the addition of voice – sometimes, just to say ABCD was not available for a comment. We hardly question the information, dig around it or dig more.

For crime stories, we hardly go beyond what the police or security agencies have said. There is thus very little enterprise driven investigative journalism where it is down to creative thinking and raw sweat.

The danger of anchoring investigative journalism on leaks is that when there is no disagreement between thieves, we will never see a story even when it is apparent money has been stolen. 

That is perhaps why no media house has to date done a major “investigative” story around the Covid-19 monies (supplementary budget and donations) and what happened to the vehicles. We are waiting for a leak! Unquestioning publishing of tips from security personnel also weaves only their desired narrative.
That said, as a media consumer, I see many lost investigative journalism opportunities. May be that is because – as they say – football fans in the pavilion tend to see more scoring opportunities or missed chances than players in the field. Was there a golden era of investigative journalism to lean on?

The past is always blurry, but in recent times, I think the golden era of investigative journalism was in the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. In part, it was driven by the competition between New Vision and The Monitor on journalism, and the outliers (so to speak) Uganda Confidential and later Weekly Observer and The Independent. 

When media houses put competition about journalism at the forefront, ie who beats the other to the big story, then creative energies in the newsroom are unleashed and resources are made available to pursue good journalism. But money is just one element of what it takes to deliver consistent and quality investigative journalism. 

The others are: Courage. Passion. Curiosity. Initiative. Logical thinking. Skepticism. Organisation. Self-discipline. Flexibility. Team spirit. Good reporting skills. Ethics & Fairness. Broad knowledge. Good and trusted sources. Time. Some of these are deficient in newsrooms. They need to be rediscovered and harnessed quickly.

Send your feedback/complaints to public-editor@ug.nationmedia.com or 
call/text on +256 776 500725.  

Advertisement