Is Journalism a gold mine or a Source of Truth?

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The days when you woke up looking forward to reading the truth from newspapers are long gone. Now what we wake up to is complete Public Relation skits placed in the newspaper articles by media house managers and money minded editors. Nowadays you read a story and ask yourself if they did enough research on the matter or they just jumped on it to make a quick dime.

In countries where governments are plundering or stealing funds as if there were sent to leave their countries’ coffers empty, the thieves strike deals with media houses to run Public Relation articles and damage control. It is interesting to note that in these dubious deals, the thieves choose key individuals in media houses with whom they share the spoils of their loot in order to make them appear successful in so called government programmes. On their part, the media houses instead of being watch dogs, monitoring these evils and informing the taxpayers, they become partners to the thieving regime. While the taxpayer loses a lifetime in service delivery, the media managers and editors build empires for themselves with the money they get to do favours for the thieving group in corrupt governments.

You have heard of the famous word ‘mafia’ being used by some people in government? The word ‘mafia’ is used by some ministers in the ruling government to refer to thieving fellow ministers who are powerful and well entrenched in the system because they have mastered the art to convince even the head of state to believe that they are right. When the media loses it’s role as the main watchdog, all other institutions follow suit to cooperate in the plundering of a nation’s resources. If Parliament, an oversight institution over the Executive gets to know that the only way to survive is to dance with the Executive and eat a large chunk of the nation’s meagre resources, they will eat even the more because the media has one eye closed and the other is open for personal interests. Once a country reaches to such a point, then that is the last point of decay.

I was shocked to learn that a certain media house has blacklisted Bishop Zac Niringiye, a Civil Society leader from being interviewed apparently because certain people do not want him covered in a particular newspaper. This is spearheaded by an editor who is following instructions to prevent the good Bishop from being given media limelight. It is sad when it comes to that point where individuals are blacklisted. When a president overstays in power he calls the shots.

Recently, a friend told me that major advertisers are threatened by the fountain of threats read Ogga. Some big advertisers are told to deny certain media houses advertising business. Since they need business from government, they comply. Without revenue, a poor media house with bills to pay, are susceptible to bribery and can easily dance to the tunes of the powers that be, if only to keep in business. But this is so because the private sector has defined itself as a weak partner in building Uganda which is why they can be told what to do by a mere president.

In the ideal world, the private sector businessmen should be the one calling shots and telling a President what to do because their businesses deserve to be in a secure environment if they are to make money. In Uganda, Journalists with the heart to serve their country are so few that you can count them on your fingertips. The majority have resorted to using Journalism as a gold mine from where they trade off the truth with corrupt officials for millions of shillings to survive.

Sometimes I ask myself if a journalist who involves himself in eating a bribe to kill a story has a conscience. For example if as a journalist you kill a story concerning road construction, for a road you may one day use when traveling, how would you feel when people are asking the truth about that particular construction? Is there any remorse remained in that kind of journalist? I have wondered where we are going if media managers have no a problem with journalists who are not contented with what they work for. Perhaps the wages of journalists should be revised upwards if even in the least this will bring some sanity to the profession.

All our newspapers have clear ethical guidelines in place and editors and journalists recognize the importance of ethical behavior, but ethical practice does not always follow. This is largely due to the precarious economic basis of news organizations, lack of effective monitoring, and a pervasive culture of unethical behavior at some media houses. Operating in a depressed economy, Ugandan journalists are often faced with the ethical dilemma of accepting gifts or gratifications at the expense of ethical tenets of their profession. The practice of accepting gratifications popularly referred to as the brown envelope syndrome has created a perennial credibility problem for the profession in Uganda.

Ugandan journalists have a negative perception of themselves as an occupational group with low ethical standards and believe that most journalists would easily accept a bribe to falsify news reports. At the same time they want to live up to the high levels of truthfulness expected of them. Many journalists experience heavy pressure including bribery from institutions that live by a good image: government ministries, finance and business leaders, politicians and foreign companies operating in Uganda.

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