This week, I was part of a media training organized by the Aga Khan University (They have Masters Courses that would interest some of you) and while there, I learned from one of the facilitators, Barbara Among that New Vision is selling shares.
Barbara is a veteran journalist whose work encompasses investigative reporting on conflict, human rights, terrorism, politics, business, health and environment. She has worked for the Daily Monitor, The East African, among several other media outlets. She is currently a consultant in media and communications issues.
Barbara shared that the New Vision is said to be owned by the government because the aforementioned entity owns 53.9% of the shares, while 46.1% of these are open for purchase by the public or any interested parties.
However, history lends that the New Vision was fashioned by the Ugandan government in 1986 (after the National Resistance Movement (NRM) seized power), even though the publication initially belonged to the British colonial government under the connotation “The Ugandan Argus”.
Under the new government, William Pike, a young Irish hippy was offered a post In the New Vision which he accepted because President Museveni showed a frivolous drive towards implementing a revolution that was going to change the whole of Africa, not just Uganda. According to Pike, “the NRM had so many good ideas, were principled and they were going to change Uganda and fix a lot of problems that African countries suffer from”. He managed the Paper for 21 years as Chief Executive Officer until 12th October, 2006 when he resigned.
Even though Pike’s articles gave Museveni the chance to expound his pragmatic brand of socialism, they did little in masking Pike’s beliefs. He believed that a government newspaper should be like BBC, which broadcasts the negative as well as the positive things about British government, not like Radio Moscow or Voice of America that only reports positive things about the government or the country. And so on countless times, the New Vision clashed with government ministers, the president, just like any newspaper. You can’t run a newspaper and not have friction with government, says Pike.
Point to note is that Pike’s articles played a key role in the re-calibration of foreign governments made once the NRM captured power in 1986. The IMF, World Bank and bilateral donors all cantered to help the new president (M7) rebuild a war-shattered economy.
Pike’s relationship with President Museveni started to go down the drain on 3 aspects;
When the journalist started to question why “Incompetent or corrupt ministers were retained in office because of their political constituencies. Smaller and smaller districts were created unnecessarily to cater for particular ethnic groups. Loyalty had become more important than principle.”
When the journalist fronted his view that Museveni should have stood down as President but remained Chairman of the NRM party. The government doe not welcome an remarks that are made towards the political crisis that is life presidency.
Any system depending on a single man’s open-mindedness and insight is doomed to fail; the term “benevolent dictator” is surely an oxymoron. But as a generation of Africans who have grown up knowing only one president or ruling party ask how the revolution came to be betrayed, the issue of how to allay the damage done by multiparty democracy will also need to be addressed.
Eventually, William Pike was forced to resign at the behest of President Museveni. It came to the president’s notice that New Vision’s “Constructive criticism” had crossed the line, was negative and defamatory of the Government. Since Pike had become a favorite, and because he had been there so long to parallel an institution, people demanded to know why he was being forced to resign. The government responded that Pike had been found to be an MI6 Agent.
Pike’s departure was followed by the appointment of Ugandan Government (NRM) spokesman Robert Kabushenga as CEO.
A look into Kabushenga’s history reveals that Vision Group’s CEO was initially actively part of the NRM Administration as spokesman, and during an interview with BBC’s Akwasi Sarpong recently, the president introduced him as a media advisor to the ruling NRM party.
Personal Opinion; Robert Kabushenga was an embodiment of the NRM, and as a media enthusiast, he would fulfill government’s agenda without causing much conflict, or being reminded what the goal is– Make Government look good.
Unlike The Daily Monitor that welcomes both positive and negative commentary, the New Vision is centred on piling dirt on everyone that opposes the government.
In an article titled “Kabushenga is a liability to NRM” by a Vision reporter, it states that Kabushenga, like the various Uganda media authorities, has failed to do what they are supposed to do, which is accreditation and instead is doing licensing, which is wrong. The writer goes on to insinuate a questionable truth—“ Kabushenga’s problem is part of the larger national problems. As a lawyer, Kabushenga gets appointed to a job requiring someone with a Masters degree or a PhD in journalism, and he opportunistically accepts without appearing to be bothered.
The New Vision has over the time placed itself as a face of fake news, gradually damaging its credibility. As a national newspaper, you would assume that all news would have to have be verified before it is published. Unfortunately, as long as it pleases the government or stands in agreement with the political agenda, it shall compete with several other credible pieces for a front page.
During the training, Barbara shared that the New Vision was down to 23,000 copies from the initial 35,000 copies of national sale.
The possibility of publishing fake news could be to achieve more sales, but also cement their authority since people run to print to verify rumor. But at what cost?
The growing trends of circulation of fake news in Uganda and worldwide is eroding people’s trust in the traditional media, experts have said.
During the media engagement training workshop organized by the Africa Freedom of Information Centre in February this year, Dr. Sam Kamau, a lecturer at Aga Khan University Graduate School of Media and Communications said in this era technology competes with researched and authoritative news and that the diminishing value of truth and facts has been declining for a couple of years because people are able to create their own version of truth.
“The production of fake news is often done with financial, political or social motivation. It is created either to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion”.
Usually, traditional media has effective gate keeping which social/online media doesn’t have. According to Kamau, traditional media must put in place more mechanism to ensure that they don’t follow temptation of falling for quick news.
“Unfortunately some mainstream newspapers, television in the attempt to struggle for space have fallen victims of spreading fake news. Continuous training, checks on media teams so that they aren’t tempted to run fake stories,” said Ofwono Opondo.
Over the years, the public has complained about different publications that taint their name including the former IGP Kale Kayihura who asked the Vision group to apologize and pay him UGX. 300Million for defamatory comments made about him in relation to the death of AIGP Andrew Felix Kaweesi. The recent one being an accusation of the flamboyant prophet Elvis Mbonye of de-campaigning the measles Rubella vaccine.
The kind of direction that the paper has taken would shatter William Pike’s heart. Legacy speaks of the pace he set for it to adopt a BBC semblance. He has said it before and probably would still say “it’s sad that there are now a lot of problems with corruption. It’s sad to think that that original spirit of idealism was not preserved”. To imagine that the government set out to be democratic but has since become very faceted with alot of discrepancy is alarming in the sense.
The leadership at “Uganda’s leading daily” should be questioned on professionalism. It is teeth-hurtful to find out that a national paper belonging to the government has thrown caution to the wind as far as their credibility is concerned. Is Kabushenga doing the job he was appointed to do? Perhaps, are things sliding past him? Very much so. All the best workforce has gradually flown out of the window leaving the institution for their competition. Does his boss like this?– let’s watch for whom this whirlwind will uproot.
Finally, the kicks of a leadership treading towards irrelevance can be seen with when their instigated media people are not doing a worthy job.