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Journalists not asking the right questions - Eric Chinje

Renowed Cameroonian journalist and chief executive officer of African Media Initiative, Eric Chinje, has faulted Ugandan journalists for failing to ask relevant questions so as to set the agenda.

Chinje was speaking on Wednesday during the Annual media and politics lecture organised by the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) at Golf Course Hotel in Kampala.

He noted that he has been dismayed by the poor quality of questions journalists in Uganda have asked politicians, business persons, government officials and donors.

Chinje stated that whereas journalists are supposed to set the agenda and be the transformation of their nations and the entire continent, this has not been realised due to shallow research.

He added that by asking the wrong question and twisting information, journalists have made authorities give lousy answers and in some cases undermined the media.

Chinje said that while supervising projects like Bujagali dam construction during his tenure as World Bank spokesperson for Africa, he was surprised at the level of unpreparedness of Ugandan journalists. He said this lack of research and analysis on the part of journalists in Uganda applies also to other journalists in Africa.

“Every time you went out to either announce a loan for a development project…like when I would come here, I came here many times with a delegation from the [World] Bank that was trying to figure out what in the world is happening to Bujagali.

For those missions, we would come to Kampala or to different parts of Uganda and at the end of each mission we would organise a press conference. And I almost never heard a journalist ask the right questions. You cannot imagine how frustrating that is for some one who is supposed to promote communications for development. And this happens not only in Kampala [but other parts of Africa].” Chinje said.

He said the level of debate by some journalists and government officials in Uganda is wanting with journalists getting political and emotional without facts.

He called for journalists to dig deeper and understand the purpose of the media, challenging them to move away from making money and to instead help make the country better through informed reporting.

On brown envelopes, a term used to refer to facilitation given to journalists by sources, Chinje stated that there is pride in not taking whatever form of facilitation is given to journalists. He says taking brown envelopes will always make a journalist lose respect. He however implores news organisations not to exploit workers financially.

“There are journalists who work and earn their strides and there those who want to earn their strides by not working. It is as simple as that. Any journalist who does not put time to get more information [more] than the public has no business [in] giving the public information. We’ve got to work, we have to research. There is single no well-respected journalist who has not done their homework. This thing is not about going on radio and talking and getting access to a publishing paper and just writing. No. It’s about bringing out facts that help people”, Chinje said.

Chinje says that with western influence and agenda, if journalists do not get to do their role, Africans will never realise what they want. He says Africa's continental agenda will only rise from the national development strategy which needs to be communicated with media.

He says Uganda has done little to promote agriculture which is one of the major ways it can become self-sufficient.

Dr Monica Chibita, who heads the journalism department at Uganda Christian University, noted that there are many instances when journalists don't have all the right questions and end up getting shallow information.

She said that the culture of depth has died following shot-cuts in the education system. She said although some institutions are not giving journalists practical experience, the poor performance is largely blamed on individuals' failure to do research.

On facilitation, Chibita noted that journalists should maintain integrity no matter what.

“It is a little bit of a sweeping statement to say nobody ever asks the right questions. There are many not asking the right questions, I wouldn’t say everybody is asking the wrong questions but there are many instances where we do not ask all the right questions and you see we only get answers to questions that you get.

So, if we get shallow information, it is because we have looked for shallow information or it is because we have not looked for deep information. Now, you can blame that on the training institutions at university level but I think you can take it further to where we actually come from to these institutions because I think the culture of depth has died. The culture of shortcuts has taken over”, she said.

Vision Group chief executive officer, Robert Kabushega, who was the moderator of the lecture said journalists in Uganda lack curiosity, describing it as a dangerous thing. He said some journalists are merely satisfied with reading a single newspaper of their choice and are hesitant to learn from reading other local and international media.

Kabushenga implored journalists to read beyond their articles if they are to make a difference. This was the third annual lecture organised by ACME under the theme "Media and Politics in Africa".

The main purpose of the lecture series is to explore the relationship between media and politics amidst changing technological, demographic, and political circumstances on the continent.

Chinje's lecture focused on the role of the media in development and its ability to effectively moderate social conversations.