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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Happy Newspaper Day!

Today was our designated newspaper day in which we interacted with Uganda's two main print publications: The New Vision and The Monitor. This morning, we met with John Kakande, the editor of The New Vision, which is the only Government-owned newspaper in the country. His talk about freedom of the press in Uganda was very enlightening. We learned that while the Ugandan Government claims there is free press, it is not truly free, as the Government can intervene at any time if there is any hint of support for an opposing minority.

Kakande also discussed the history of media in Uganda, which began in the early 1900s with the first print publication. Radio was introduced in the country in 1954. Today, there are around 100 radio stations in the country, but many of the workers are paid next to nothing, as it is difficult to be prosperous, especially in rural areas with little demand for advertising. In comparison to other African nations, Uganda is second to Kenya as far as the state of the news media, according to Kakande. But even he hopes that the Government will completely remove itself from his newspaper, as there are always issues of censorship that can cover up the truth.

This afternoon's tour of The Monitor was also fascinating. The Monitor, Uganda's leading independent newspaper, is the main competition of The New Vision, and the rivalry between them was apparent. The Monitor claims it has a circulation of 30,000 while The New Vision puts the circulation count of its competitor at 20,000. Both agree (one more reluctantly than the other) that The New Vision does have a larger circulation (around 35,000).

Chris Obore is the assistant news-editor at The Monitor. He is definitely a strong advocate for a completely free press. He thinks it's remarkable that the Constitution has allowed his newspaper to exist independently, but there is still a lot of work to be done before Uganda's press is entirely free. "Even though everything looks great on the surface, we are still fighting Government interference every day," he said. "Freedom of the press is not about journalism; it's about providing a platform for free speech. It is a human right."

For my question, I would like to go back to the presentation by John Kakande of The New Vision. He defended the use of graphic images used on the cover of The Bukkede, saying that the use of these photos (such as mangled bodies from traffic accidents) has inspired people to take action and speak out about issues such as traffic control and safety. Do you think that is the only reason they publish these photos?Also, do you personally think it is a good idea to show such graphic pictures in the media here in Uganda?


  1. Happy Newspaper day: I think its half happy newspaper day!

    Wow glad you guys enjoyed your trips to Uganda two main media groups but you surely missed out on some, I think vital media house;
    In open everyone abhors this newspaper called The Red Pepper, but in secrecy no one wants to miss out on its gossip stories which are hard hitting articles ranging from politics to normal Ugandan social life with stories on which Minister is dating which University girl…….. In its early years it was more of a daily dose of Play Boy, and those who bought it kept it in their car boots and also inserted in the middle pages of New Vision and Monitor so they could read without being detected (hey Ugandans love gossip: too its part of news) but today it has evolved into a daily selling around 15,000 copies per day with over 50,000 readership (earlier it was a weekly then to a bi-weekly) that the power brokers in Uganda cannot ignore, as a friend of mine in the media shared with me about how major stories evolve in Uganda:
    “Once the Red Pepper runs a story today, everyone will get to know of it but brush it off as gossip,
    Then after a week the Daily Monitor will run the same story (after they have hard evidence backing up that same story)
    Then after words the New Vision daily will run the same story after a month probably defending or covering up that same story(usually they are hard hitting government related stories) “

    New Vision-
    is more of a society paper, mainly informing on government programs, writing about societal trends and they have a great sports team with the recognizable scribes as: Keturah Kemigisha, Bukumunhe T, Kabuleta J.

    Daily Monitor
    Is the main political paper, though I must say with diminished power now after a bigder share of it was acquired by the Kenyan Media group Nation: which has to balance its business interests with ruffling the state.

    Red Pepper
    Ironically the most expensive of all papers, whose focus is mainly publishing on the “OPEN SECRETS” in the nation.

    Other newspapers/ magazines:
    The Observer bi-weekly newspaper
    The weekly Independent
    Both the above were started by journalists who felt the Daily Monitor had lost its “teeth” or sold out to the state.

    Its very interesting out here, personally I love all my papers (Red Pepper and The Observer are my favourite).

    Muhimbise A.
    Entebbe Uganda

  2. This was the first time I learned about how journalism and media is operated. I enjoyed learning about some of the pressures these papers have to deal with in order to avoid trouble with the government. As for the graphic pictures, I think that tactic can be realistic, but I wonder how much they actually motivate citizens to hold people and organizations accountable. The Inspector General of the Government made it sound like the citizens of Uganda are not likely to complain, or that they don't hold leaders accountable. If that is true, then the pictures probably aren't doing any good, and may just insult the friends and family of the subjects of the pictures.

    More notable, I learned from these sessions how important free press is to sustainable developement. Free press is like a check on the government and other leaders that provides incentive to keep their integrity. If a leader knows that their dishonest deed will be broadcast to the people, they will be less likely to be corrupt for fear of loss of public approval and maybe a loss of office. But here in Uganda, the government had direct and indirect controls on media, which allows them to stiffle any messages that might deface the individuals or institutions in question.

  3. Hi Ehall,
    yes free Press (however nasty the pictures may look) is a seed for sustainable development,
    but not only a check for the government and leaders; also for all citizens: the youths and old alike. let me give an example here;
    At the onset of the Red Pepper Tabloid they published front page picture of teenagers having sex at the beaches- the country went all crazy- calling for that media house to be closed... but the big picture was that somehow the teenagers morals improved as they feared appearing in the dreaded Red Pepper (the same way Kakande explained the impact of his Bukedde pixs) well on the side of sustainable development as a result of this we could have kids who respect themselves and the public; thanks to ironically the press ooperating freely on anything.
    Don't take the words of the Inspector General of Government too seriuosly, she is just a political animal who in her own words reports to Jesus Christ and the President only (not the citizenry). we do hold our leaders to account though i must say it takes long hey we are in a dictatorship like setting....

  4. I think that showing gruesome pictures in the newspapers would cause people to have a reaction- which is the goal. However, if pictures like that are shown too often, people may become desensitized to them, causing innaction and indifference. With that, it might turn many social problems and injustices into social norms. It may create a 'that's just the way it is' attitude. At the same time, I think it is important to get the truth out to the people; no matter how 'ugly' the truth might be. I think this is a difficult question that editors face..

  5. Though there may be some awareness achieved from publishing photos like that I also think they are published for shock factor. I think that if people are surprised or intrigued by something they have never seen they might have a higher chance of buying it. But I also agree with Rachel in that there is a danger in publishing the photos and having people become desensitized to them.