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African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) bags Shs 18 million grant


by AMON KATUNGULU
The African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) has been announced winners of the Digital Human Rights Lab innovation challenge 2021, a program that seeks to integrate digital innovations to advance Human Rights in Uganda.
AIIJ which was part of the 10 teams selected from over 100 applicants went through an intensive 4 weeks training program on developing and shaping digital innovations to promote human rights.
The training program which was conducted by some of Uganda’s top tech giants included designing prototypes that will later on be developed and actualized to defend human rights in different spheres.
The programme climaxed with an offline pitch event where 4 teams emerged winners of the Shs 60 million grant funding and six months’ mentorship program to develop and to sustainably implement their digital solutions. For winning this, AIIJ will receive Shs 18 million grant.
Whilst presenting the award to AIIJ, Edmond Atto a software engineer and a member of the jury commended the institute for their timely innovation.
“First of all, their presentation was powerful, I learnt today the power of a story and the passion that drives the need to tell stories accurately, the justice that can come from telling a well-curated story. We all know now better than ever how important it is for us to have a platform to tell curated and censored human rights stories,” Atto said.
The executive director of AIIJ Solomon Serwanjja who led the team said the “iRoom” which is their new innovation will go a long way in documenting human rights abuses committed against Ugandans.
“We believe that when social evil happens in our societies and we stay silent, we betray our communities. This is why we are coming up with this innovation to investigate and document human rights violations committed by different agencies to name and shame them but most importantly to bring them to account. We are truly grateful for the support that we have received from the mentors and trainers,” Serwanjja said.
Raymond Mujuni, the deputy executive Director at AIIJ added: “This online platform that we have come up with will enable human rights defenders to be able to tell stories of human rights violations using crowdsourcing curation, editing, and publications. It will create a safe space for the public to contribute to a body of work that can be used as evidence to bring to book the abusers.”
Sophie Dienberg, one of the trainers at start Hub Africa said “all participants came out as winners because they all share the same goal of making human rights work in Uganda better, easier, and more efficient with the help of digital technology.”
Other winners of the evening included the Kuchu Care Team, Girl Power Connect Team and the Safe Bangle Team.

New film paints dark world for defiled victims seeking justice


By ESTHER OLUKA, Daily monitor
Sexual assault continues to become a national crisis in the country with victims increasingly finding it difficult to access justice from respective authorities.
This revelation was part of the findings from yesterday’s launch of the investigative documentary film titled ‘defiled by my father’, a product of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ).
The one-hour film, which showed on YouTube during the afternoon hours, was by Mr. Solomon Serwanjja, an investigative journalist and executive director of AIIJ.
It exposes the loopholes in the justice system that sexual predators are using to avoid the justice system. Mr. Serwanjja tells a chilling story of a 13-year-old minor who was allegedly defiled by her father.
“People have learnt how to compromise the justice system and this is what the story reveals,” he told Daily Monitor.

The narrative
The documentary starts with an account of the family background of the minor, Nakamatte (not real name).
The girl’s parents had separated eight years ago and there was no communication between the couple until recently in early February when the child’s father reached out to his former partner, claiming he wanted to see the children.
The children started visiting their father, a habit that went on for weeks, until one day when Nakamatte’s mother noticed something wrong with her daughter.
Though she was reluctant to speak out on what happened to her the first time, Nakamatte eventually opened up the second time after being interrogated by her mother.
“The child told me that she had a bad dream about her father defiling her, yet, he had actually defiled her,’’ the mother said during the documentary.
After opening up about her defilement ordeal, the mother took Nakamatte to Ggaba Police Station
“The child took us to his (former partner’s) place. Statements were taken, he [the father] was arrested and the case was forwarded to Kabalagala Police Station,” she said.
Nakamatte was raped twice, leaving her with pain in her pelvis.
The documentary further shows a pattern of authorities who have mastered the art of killing cases at different points of the justice system.
At Kabalagala Police Station, she was told the person who stood in for the suspect was not around and if she had any complaints, then, she needed to go to the State Attorney where the orders came from.
She then reported to Katwe Police Divisional headquarters after learning that Nakamatte’s father had been released. Immediately after his release, he began bragging that he did not have a case to answer and that he was being framed.
Nakamatte’s father was rearrested and is currently on remand at Kitalya Maximum Security Prison, in Wakiso District pending court-trial.
Mr Sserwanjja said people have learnt to compromise officers who are at the lower end of the justice system including those involved in sexual cases.
There are two different medical reports on Nakamatte’s condition. While investigating the case at Katwe Police Divisional headquarters, the investigations officer called for another medical examination of both Nakamatte and her father on March 26.
The report was done by a clinical senior officer at Nsambya Police Health Centre. According to the report, Nakamatte had two tears in the upper labia minora and an already raptured hymen. The possible cause of injuries, according to the report, was forceful penile penetration. This is different from another medical report from Mayfair Clinic done on March 4, which stated that there were no bruises, but, rather pain on squeezing some parts of the genitals.
While examining the two medical reports, Dr Moses Mwanje, a senior gynecologist, said in the documentary that it depended on who was conducting the examination because people see different things.
“The two people may not be of the same qualification or knowledge or ability to examine a child,” he said.
Dr Mwanje suggested that the medical officer from Mayfair Clinic might have been compromised.
Mr Luke Owoyesigyire, the Kampala metropolitan deputy police spokesperson, told Daily Monitor that sexual assault cases are among the mostly registered ones during this ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
“Part of the challenges we face when dealing with such cases is that we fail to get the samples (from victims) early enough. In the end, police have to mostly rely on statements of the victim and parents which we forward to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) who in the end advises on how we proceed with the case,” Mr Owoyesigyire said.
Meanwhile, Mr Jameson Karemani, the Judiciary spokesperson, said when sexual-related cases are taken to court, sometimes there are difficulties encountered in handling them because of financial constraints and limited human resource.
“We are finding ways of dealing with these issues so that the cases are handled on time,” Mr Karemani said.
Mr James Tumusiime, the country director at Reach A Hand Uganda, a non-profit organisation focused on youth empowerment, said the documentary reveals that parents ought to create an environment that allows free engagement with their children, but also, there should be other mechanisms where information can be given.
Nakamatte’s mother said all she needs is justice to prevail for her daughter whose pregnancy test recently came out as negative. The victim continues to seek treatment for both her physical and emotional wounds inquired during her rape ordeals.
The statistics on defilement
Statistics from the 2020 annual crime report reveal that 14,230 victims were defiled in 2020 of whom 14,080 were female juveniles, 140 were male juveniles and 10 female adults. Of the cases of defilement reported in 2020, a total of 10, 413 were defilement while 3,721 were aggravated defilement. By the end of 2020, a total of 5,745 cases were taken to court, out of which 794 cases secured convictions, 22 cases were acquitted, 168 cases were dismissed, and 4,761 cases were still pending in court. A total of 5,058 cases were still under investigations.

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The African Institute for Investigative Journalism pitches for collaboration at the AIIJ Conference 2021

The African Institute for Investigative Journalism pitches for collaboration at the AIIJ Conference 2021

By Rahim Nwali.
Investigative journalists from across Africa and beyond gathered in different cities across the continent to take part in this year’s investigative journalism conference. The conference organized by Witz University attracted over 1,000 delegates including journalists, academicians, donors, entrepreneurs, media organization to say the least. The hybrid
conference included both online and physical meeting sessions in Abuja Nigeria, Nairobi, Kenya, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Dakar, Senegal and Johannesburg, South Africa. The African institute for Investigative Journalism is proud to have been a part of the conference participating in two panel session. The Executive Director Solomon Serwanjja hosted a panel discussion on government driven mis/disinformation and social conflict in Africa.

The panelists including the Senior investigations manager for CODE FOR AFRICA Alan Cheboi, Peris Gachachi from Africa Uncensored and Kevin Rubio from the DT-Institute discussed in detail the role of collaboration in fighting against mis/disinformation online. The panel used a case study of the mis/disinformation which was displayed during Uganda’s elections as a baseline. Through collaboration with the CODE FOR AFRICA, Africa Uncensored, the team did an online data analysis which showed coordinated inauthentic behavior in Uganda’s elections. They later on raised a red flag to Facebook which conducted further investigations, later on closing over 30 accounts belonging to those who were pushing the agenda of president Yoweri Museveni.
The panel concluded that collaboration between tech companies and data companies with media organization cannot be over emphasized.
The Executive Director also spoke during a panel session that discussed investigating corruption and the power of collaboration. The panel which also comprised of investigative Journalists Dominic Wabala was moderated by Mary Mwendwa, the investigations editor for Talk Africa. The panel discussed the challenges in investigating corruption, the role of collaboration in executing transborder investigation and the need for credibility. The panel concluded with the discussion on safety and security of journalists who are investigating such cases. The three-day conference ended on Wednesday 13 th October 2021. A special thank you to Witz University, the partners and the sponsors of the conference who made this conference happen.

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EXPOSING THE LOOPHOLES IN THE JUSTICE SYSTEM OF UGANDA


By Grace Birungi.
Defilement cases are on the rise in Uganda despite the presence of laws. The report indicates that a total of 14,134 cases of Defilements were reported to Police compared to 13,613 cases reported in 2019, giving an increase of 3.8%. Of the cases of Defilement reported in 2020, 10,413 were defilement while 3,721 were Aggravated Defilement.
A total of 5,058 cases were still under investigations. 5,943 suspects of defilement were arrested and charged to Court, out of whom, 845 were convicted while 4,907 were still awaiting trial in the period under review.
Against this background, the African Institute for Investigative journalism embarked on an investigation for close to six months on a story of a 13-year-old girl who was defiled by her father but didn’t get the justice she deserved. After all the investigations, a documentary titled “Defiled by my father” was launched on the 7 th October 2021 online to reveal what happened.
The launch was graced by the Danish ambassador, Nicolas. A. Hejberg Peterson, the mother of the victim Nakawesi, her brother, and some journalists from different media houses who came at the institute to watch the documentary.
The 1-hour documentary is a quest for justice story of a desperate mother seeking justice for her 13- year-old girl, who was allegedly defiled by her father and didn’t get justice because the victim was released even with clear evidence available.

It takes a deep dive into the sexual assault cases in the country and why very many people who commit such atrocities sometimes never make it to court. The documentary highlights how people at the grass root level never get justice because of the syndicated corruption along the justice system.
The corruption starts from the first part of the justice journey which is, the investigations level. If the investigations officer is corrupted, they will put up a weak report that they submit to the Directorate of Public Prosecution and therefore the director will not find enough evidence to prosecute the case, this mounts to the closure of the case and the criminal released from police.
Many of these sexual assault cases don’t make it up to court because the perpetrators of these crimes bribe the police officers and therefore, this investigation is supposed to be impactful and start conversations around access to justice and highlight corruption along the justice value chain.

CLICK TO WATCH THE VIDEO.

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“A Journalism that sees newsrooms as partners rather than competitors”

The maiden Investigative Journalism Conference Uganda 2020 launched on Thursday, 22nd October, with panelists strongly calling on media houses and news rooms to partner in the search for truth.

This year’s conference was aired and streamed LIVE on NBS TV deliberating on the state of investigative journalism in Uganda whilst highlighting the past, present, future, opportunities and challenges of investigative story telling.

The conversation was moderated by Solomon Serwanjja, the Executive Director of the African Institute of Investigative Journalism; speaking to Uganda’s renowned and seasoned journalism scholars and practitioners; Prof. Monica Chibita- Dean, Faculty of Journalism, Media and communication at Uganda Christian University (UCU), Dr. Peter Mwesige- Executive Director at African Center for Media Excellence,  Andrew Mwenda- Chief Executive Officer, The Independent magazine, Emmanuel Mutaizibwa- Investigative Journalist with the National Media Ground and Dalton Kawesa- Chief News Editor, Next Media Service.

Opening the conversation was the Deputy Executive Director of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ), Raymond Mujuni who gave the preamble of the discussion on the state of investigative journalism. “We are exceptionally delighted to host you today to the first ever investigative journalism conference under the theme “state of Investigative journalism in Uganda”. As an institute founded and niched in the ideas of investigative reporting, seeing, in this room, a host of professionals on whose blood, sweat and tears the rostrum of Uganda’s journalism shines bright, we can only be proud and exceptionally humbled that you accepted our invitation”

Before the panel discussion, a keynote address was given by Nation Media Group’s Public Editor, Charles Odoobo Bichachi who commended the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) for reviving the spirit of Investigative Journalism and bringing back the golden days. Bichachi also called upon newsrooms to reflect and evaluate on some of Journalism’s fundamental values: passion, curiosity, initiative, logical thinking, discipline, flexibility, good writing skills, ethics, fairness, broad knowledge of issues, time and resources to better investigative journalism as a form of journalism.

While speaking on the impact of emerging new technologies and digital space on investigative journalism, the founder of the Independent Magazine and veteran investigative journalist, Andrew Mwenda advised and cautioned journalists to adopt and adapt to the ever evolving audience and technologies. “The traditional media have got to create information that is short and sharp because people have a short attention span. We need to rethink how to do investigative journalism that is quick, sharp, and short” said Andrew

Nation Media Group’s investigative journalist Emmanuel Mutaizibwa, enthusiastically called upon newsrooms and media owners to see themselves as partners not as competitors in investigative reporting.  “We should not look at journalism as competition. We need to encourage collaborative journalism. That’s the only way we are going to improve investigative journalism.”

Professor Monica Chibita who serves as the Dean, Faculty of Journalism, Media and Communication at Uganda Christian University (UCU) highlighted the big gap between the newsroom and classrooms strongly noting that “There is a huge gap between the two: newsroom and classroom since most of the lecturers like me have never been to newsrooms and yet we are training journalists.” 

Dr. Peter Mwesige of African Centre for Media Excellency (ACME) warned and highlighted the impact of media ownership. “Very many media owners don’t care about the public interest mission of journalism. They are in it for prestige or for political gains or for money.” He said.

Addressing the dropping quality of investigative stories in newsrooms, Dalton Kawesa- Chief News Editor, Next Media Services called for a paradigm shift by media owners and newsroom editors so as to give more space and time to investigative journalism. 

“If only media owners can know that Investigative journalism can convert viewers and improve circulation numbers therefore attracting advertisers. When you do an impactful investigative report and many watch it, you will convert viewers in broadcast and also increase the number of circulation in print.” Dalton said.

Dalton urged media owners to rethink and give a place for this impactful form of journalism.

While wrapping up the conversation, the Executive Director of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism, Solomon Serwanjja stressed the commitment of the institute towards equipping and empowering journalists with skills, knowledge and resources to go beyond the headlines and report investigations that are going to go for public resource accountability, social justice and question people in power.

“What we will be focusing on in the next months, will be the focus on training and capacity building, collaborative reporting, provide and source funding for impactful investigative stories and also provide legal support for investigative journalists.” He said.

Watch the full discussion here

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Media and Mental health; Stop the “Crazy talk”

Have you listened over the radio or come across tabloids; a post on social media or watched on television a journalist or presenter refer to a person as “Crazy?” 

Well, you and I have probably used it in casual conversations and without even ever noticing! Some movies have normalised the word crazy like one of my favorite ‘The gods must be CRAZY’  have the word in the title! There are songs, you remember the 2009 hit of Beyoncé and Jay Z “Crazy in Love” and Eminem’s crazy in love

From the day I started reading about mental health and talking to different mental health advocates and psychologists, I have come to learn that language is one of the contributing factors to the stigma surrounding mental health. The word Crazy is one of those words that are all over the place and used to describe both good and bad moments for instance “That guy is crazy” “I had a crazy day…

I have been paying attention to how the media reports and talks about mental health and on a certain morning whilst watching a news digest I thought I didn’t hear it but truth is it was said! “People who commit suicide are cowards and selfish…” These and more words are used unknowingly but they give life and sustain the stigma around mental health and they make it hard for people dealing with mental health challenges to seek help or treatment.

The ignorance that surrounds the language used by the media while talking about mental health is very worrying! The media continues to  misrepresent mental health thus sustaining the prejudice and stigma around mental health.

The language used by journalists and “netizen journalists” while talking about mental health disorders for instance “cowards”, “selfish’, “aggressive”, “violent” to mention but a few are some of the stigmatising words making people with mental health challenges fear to come out and seek help for fear of being stigmatised or discriminated against by their social circle. Imagine you are depressed, gained weight or lost weight, or you have no sleep and everyone you open up to tells you that “man, you are crazy!”,  “ you have got to Man up”…

The media is considered as a powerful tool of interaction and such use of labeling or condemning language will bring about relapse to people healing from a mental health disorder. They will also start to withdraw from social networks because they fear to be discriminated against.

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 4 people have a mental health challenge. While the media is considered as an educative and informative tool that gives in-depth insight to issues happening, there is more to research and study to challenge the stereotypes and stigma surrounding mental health.

As stated by the  National Center for Biotechnology Information report, the media is considered as one of the sources of information about mental health. Given the power of this tool, the media can challenge mental health stigma and promote seeking help for instance getting mental health related topics on the trending list of twitter with a hashtag. The more conversations with the hashtag, the more awareness will be spread.

Great strides have been made by the media on reporting on issues surrounding mental health however there is still more work to be done. Information provided by news media for instance the way Hussein Walugembe’s story was reported, it lacked a mental health angle to it with the media choosing to focus on the political and violent angle of the story.

 Walugembe was a motorcycle taxi operator who died inside the Masaka Police station after setting himself on fire when the police impounded his Boda boda (motorcycle) after violating a curfew order during the Covid-19 lockdown on the 3rd of July. His story gained international coverage. It was a hotcake on mainstream media with sensationalised headlines like “Omuvubuka yekumyeko omuliro e Masaka”, “mother to Hussein Walugembe, the motorcycle rider who set himself ablaze, has lost her speech”. and a wash all over social media feeds with polarising comments.

Mental health remains a difficult term that is not well understood by the majority of not only the mass media and new media but also the general public. For example, did you know that every referral hospital in Uganda has a mental health department? The widespread stigma and the continual misrepresentation of mental health as a complex topic by the language used to talk about it affects the health seeking behavior of those dealing with mental health challenges.

The media is undeniably one of the most powerful tools of communication. If rightly used, the media can influence public attitudes and perceptions about mental health. The media needs a better understanding and insight into mental health so as to have informed conversations about mental health challenges which will be the basis of influencing public beliefs on mental health.

Shemei Agabo is a budding investigative journalist and Host of ‘The Event’. The Event is an increasingly popular original YouTube talk show series focused on mental health and wellbeing. Agabo’s passion rests in telling stories that bring about social & political change. He is currently a fellow at the African Institute for Investigative journalism.

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Journalists & politics: to endorse or not to endorse candidates?

As the nomination days for candidates seeking to contest in Uganda’s 2021 general elections get ever closer, you may have seen a significant number of journalists who work for local and national publications or broadcast outlets express their support for some politicians on social media.

This was particularly evident during the primaries to select representatives at various levels for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, the hitherto leading opposition party, Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), and the on-going selection exercise of flag-bearers for the new-kids-on-the-block, the National Unity Platform (NUP) party.

In some cases, the endorsements that the journalists make on their respective Twitter, Facebook or WhatsApp accounts are subtle while in others, they are turning into a blatant show of partisan support for the candidate of their preference.

For instance, on September 1, 2020, a reporter with local news website ChimpReports, Dickens Okello, wrote, “Hon. David Bahati has for the [last] two consecutive sessions of Parliament [been] declared the best legislators and remains the most valuable debater on the government side. The people of Ndorwa West, your MP has done his best as a legislator. Keep the political spirit burning and return him to Parliament. Endorsed.”

Similarly, on September 3, 2020, Okello offered support to another candidate, a former minister, on his social media page. He wrote, “Rt. Maj. Jessica Alupo Epel is a good-hearted and dependable leader. Katakwi District voters, please return her to Parliament. Endorsed.”

Speaking to this writer in a telephone interview on September 26, Okello defended as his right the decision he’s taken to canvass support for political leaders he believes have Uganda’s interests at heart. He said the fact that he is a journalist does not take away that right.

“Fundamentally, as a journalist, I am supposed to remain objective, fair and balanced, but there are three things that inform my decision to support candidates. First, I am a citizen. Secondly, I am a taxpayer. Thirdly, I am a voter. So, if I am a stakeholder in this country, I also need the best for this country,” he said. “Let us also understand one thing; we have our social media pages which are supposed to be for our personal views.”

Okello explained that followers of his work need to know there is a distinction between his professional and private life when consuming the information that he shares in his different capacities. The critics of his work are those who don’t make the distinction.

“When I am writing an objective story, that’s going to be on the Chimp Reports website and social media pages. That’s where I don’t take a side. But for my Facebook, that’s for my personal views. So long as I am not lying, it’s not defamation, and it’s not going to affect national security, there’s no problem with me expressing my views,” he said.

Another journalist who has come out in support of political aspirants is Sadab Kittata, the editor of Witness news website. On September 10, Kittata, who also reports on a freelance basis for The Observer, offered came out in support of Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, who is seeking to retain the seat. He wrote on his Facebook page, “Articulate, Intelligent, Reasonable… Mathias Mpuuga, the perfect choice for Masaka.”

In an interview for this story, Kittata said he looks at social media as his private space and he does not take his social media views into his professional work. He added that unlike others, he is open about his political leanings and interests.

“Those [candidates] that I have shown support for, I never write stories about them because I know people will not take it to be an objective story. They will think that I have been influenced,” he said. “For instance, if you look for a story from me about Asuman Basalirwa, you will never find it.”

Kittata says that where he offers support to particular candidates, he often puts disclaimers that he is doing it in his personal capacity, and not as a journalist. This was, however, not the case

“One thing I don’t like about us journalists is that we pretend too much. Many of us get actively involved in these things, like politics by showing support to politicians, but come and pretend to be neutral. And I have always wondered, ‘why don’t we pick a leaf from the Americans?’ Because you can know that Fox News is promoting the Republican agenda and CNN is promoting the agenda of Democrats, and it’s clear. So, I fail to find a justification for us to continue pretending and yet, quietly, we get so involved in the political processes,” he argued.

According to Kittata, part of the hypocrisy that he has seen in Uganda’s media sphere is that journalists demonise colleagues who support the ruling party but will praise colleagues that show open support for the opposition.

“To me, the best thing for us for you as a journalist to declare and come out openly and say, ‘on this issue, this is my stand’ so that we can know that when Sadab is talking about this, he is out of the other coat of a journalist,” he said.

It must be noted that the majority of the journalists working with Uganda’s leading media organizations such as Nation Media Group – Uganda (Daily Monitor newspaper, NTVKFM, etc.), Vision Group and The Observer have largely restrained from engaging in the endorsement of candidates. But that does not mean it is not happening.

On September 18, the Public Editor for Nation Media Group – Uganda (NMG-U), Charles Odoobo Bichachi, published an elaborate article in which he articulated what in his view, the media-consuming public expects from the ‘fourth estate’ generally and journalists in particular. 

On the issue of fairness and balance within the media, Bichachi wrote, “Should journalists take sides? Professionally, they shouldn’t. They can and do have sides, but this should never be seen in their stories and pattern of reporting.”

In a telephone interview for this story, I asked Bichachi whether NMG-U had found patterns of partisanship within the stories it published, let alone the social media activities of its journalists, that should be a cause for concern.

“I have raised the flag [about bias] because I have noticed this within some of the stories in the media generally and within NMG,” he said. “I have flagged this matter for the editors to take note and take appropriate measures from growing because it goes against the NMG and the rules of good journalism.”

Bichachi, who has in the past written about the slippery slope that social media presents for journalists, believes that the best way to overcome some of the contestations about what journalists should or should not do during elections coverage is to offer refresher training.

“It is important that the newsroom gets refresher training on elections reporting, social media policies within the media house,” he said.

Organizations such as NMG-Uganda have a set of rules of engagement that clearly outline how the company requires its journalists to conduct themselves during the time they work for such an entity. Besides the general editorial policy, they also have a social media policy and an election reporting policy among others. The challenge for NMG-Uganda and other media organizations is to ensure that all the journalists, many of them often quite opinionated, well-known and eager to leverage on their prominence in society, tow the same line.

Okello, for instance, admitted that while Chimp Reports has clearly documented guidelines on how journalists working for the organization should conduct themselves professionally and in their private activities since they are closely associated with the company’s brand, he often goes against the company’s recommended principles.

“We have a strong editorial policy [at Chimp Reports]. We are supposed to remain not only objective but even the way we carry ourselves in public, like me who reports from Parliament, there are standards expected of me. Yes, at times what I post conflicts with the editorial policy but when I feel it is necessary, then I am going to use my power of writing and speak out,” he said.

Between September 6th and 12th, I travelled to the four cities of Arua, Gulu, Lira and Soroti to support Media Focus on Africa – Uganda in its effort to train journalists on the key principles of election reporting. Having covered three general elections before, I had several experiences to draw from that I shared with the journalists, including on issues of objectivity and fairness, conflict of interest and election bribery.

Before each session, I posed a trick question, asking the journalists I was training whether any of them had a candidate they had backed who had lost in the party primaries. In all the four districts, not a single journalist admitted they supported a candidate.

The answer was always the same: “We are journalists who must be objective so we do not support any candidate.” It was difficult to tell if the journalists were merely playing to the gallery or actually held those views close to their hearts as professionals.

It was only in Lira where some journalists were candid enough to say that they are human, live and interact with the population and so have their biases and also faced pressure from candidates who, when elections are done, they will continue to live amidst. What they wanted to know was information that would help them ensure that whenever they do their work, they are able to do it as objectively as they can, despite the challenges they had shared.

At the training workshop in Gulu, Jane Angom Mujoma, a production manager at Speak FM, said that journalists often let their guard down on social media yet it has an effect on the way the public perceives the fairness of the stories that they publish on the mainstream media platforms.

“We must continue to live up to principles of good journalism; fairness, balance, accuracy. These are things that we cannot run away from, regardless of the fact that we are doing it on digital platforms,” she said. “Sometimes when we are doing these things on social media and digital platforms, we don’t think twice [about the consequences], but we need to uphold these principles [of good journalism].”

The author is a Ugandan journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor with The Observer, The East African and Daily Monitor newspapers. He has covered Uganda’s last three general elections (2006, 2011, and 2016).

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I don’t mind dying for the right story – Sudhir byaruhanga

AIIJ had an interview with NTV Uganda’s Investigative Journalist Sudhir Byaruhanga on his award winning investigative story at African Center For Media Excellence (ACME) 2020  “Ranches encroachment”. He shares his experience as an investigative journalist and what makes him stand out of the crowd of other investigative journalists in Uganda.

Why Investigative Journalism?

When you look at the content available in our mainstream right now, TV, Radio and Print. It is visible that investigative pieces are still lacking and still a virgin area for Uganda. You can hardly get a very good investigative story a week or even months. 

What we see as investigations sometimes are just some features that are expounded on and given some little bit of depth but do not reveal so many facts, therefore it’s an area that I find still virgin hence an opportunity for every journalist in Uganda to harness.

Journalists are at liberty, it’s like going into an orchid and you are free to pick whatever fruit you want. Journalists need to know what they want. Do you do stories and go home and wait for your salary or do you want to do a story and create an impact? Do you do stories that contribute to the betterment of Uganda. The stories that we do of; he said, she said, this happened. They never make Uganda better.

People are getting bored of news, they are getting away from the mainstream media and resorting to social media. If we are to wallow in the steps of those that were there before us or even before innovations, it is ideal for all the journalists in Uganda to indulge in investigative journalism.

It takes a lot of courage to pull off a good investigative piece. You must have full support from your bosses and they must be ready to be patient. What kills investigative journalism in Uganda is, the bosses want input every day because it’s what counts to them but they forget that you could have one piece in two months and that story will leave an impact and will always be linked to the station where it aired. 

The impact is felt once and it might come after a long time, but it is felt more than an ordinary story that would air on a daily basis. If I walk around the street and I ask people who watch everyday, asking them the stories I have done, they will tell me MABIRA, NODDING SYNDROME, GOLD MINES IN MUBENDE e.t.c; those stories always have an everlasting impact on people’s lives.

 I am not someone who is easily shaken by threats, despite the fact that they are there. “I don’t mind dying for the right reason, people die for wrong reasons. If you kill me for the story I have done, if it makes Uganda better and it can make other people’s lives better so be it.”

 It takes a lot of time and endurance to come up with a piece, if you are not patient in investigative journalism, you will easily give up or ignore some bits. How much depth do you give to your story? You can’t focus on one side, two or three, every person you are accusing in that story must be reached out however, if you still fail you should prove that you tried.

Is there a future for investigative journalism in Uganda?

The future for investigative journalism in Uganda is still blurry, (he responds with a depressed face), media houses have not sat down to invest in that properly and effectively, they are still in their comfort zones. (He questions the security of investigative journalists who are covering sensitive stories), are media houses protecting them? Where journalists sleep, is it safe for them to continue pursuing their stories while in the field?

Until the media houses realize that it’s a department needed in the newsroom and demand for the results, you will see investigative journalism go further.. Many of my colleagues in this fraternity have the capacity to pull off these stories but they lack support from their bosses and resources. 

How are you a unique investigative journalist? 

He smiles, I always have support from my bosses. I am trained, I have the opportunity so it’s a catch 22.

I am able to pull off stories because I know how to gauge when I am safe and when I am not. I know how to hide from the wrong guys, I know how to play with their minds and I know how to play a smarter game than them. It takes a lot of thinking, experience and commitment. 

If it were up to you, which story do you feel deserved to win an award?

I believe every story that I have done deserves an award, each story comes with its own impact. You come back and you are trying to put the story together but you can’t hold your tears, with that particular impact you long for.  

He goes silent for a while then with a calm soft voice he adds, an award for me, is not about what comes with it. It’s an appreciation and a recognition that you have understood and acknowledged that I am contributing towards the betterment of my society. It is such small things that encourage journalists to work harder. 

What was so special about the story that won you an award?

Smiling…, what stands out in that story is, the whole list of people who encroached the ranch were police, army, highly placed officials within the government. The story of the ranch had enough sources. I didn’t just mention the encroachment but I showed the evidence. It was so extensive, it had depth and multiple sources and I think that’s how it stood out because I didn’t leave any stone unturned. 

It was four seconds of footage of soldiers standing there in army uniform but it’s what was missing in that story to qualify a statement that I had mentioned “that army officers were manning the site owned by Kahinda Otafiire as he is going on with his construction of a glass factory.” 

What challenges did you face while covering the story?

When I went to the ranch in Njeru they told me soldiers are manning the area and this was an expanse (an area that has no development) In mind, “I was like at what point are these soldiers but I had to walk towards the place. I went into the bush and we managed to capture the activities taking place. I was like what if in the process of filming, we are shot dead.” 

For any investigation, it will never rub everybody the right way or else it’s not an investigation, it’s a promotion and those people can retaliate very badly. 

At that time, I was debating whether to rely on the drone or go there and film the story on my own but I needed to see. 

Are you settling now that you have an award?

He sarcastically laughs, whether I get an award or not, it’s not what pushes me. I don’t care If I get one or not, what I care about is the impact I create within the population and the society I live in. If I meet someone on the way and they say, well done, it is very rewarding. 

What advice do you give to the budding Investigative Journalists?

“Put the highlighted in brackets”, do your best, don’t back down because somewhere in the middle of the investigation someone will want to buy you off to drop the story or buy you to pursue another angle of the story. We have a lot of influential people or advertisers who inject money in different media houses and have an influence on investigative stories, especially if the story hinges on what they are doing.

If you are faced with such a challenge, don’t sell your soul. Do what is important and what is important is the initial idea you had, do not stop along the way. You can do the story and not get the millions they want to pay you but, in future the name you make will fetch you hundreds and hundreds of millions.

Trust me I don’t regret being a journalist.

News

AIIJ Receives Computers From NSSF

Journalism is the torch to the society as creates scenarios for inward looking to all the stakeholders through going to the core of the societal problems in health, politics, and the economy. This notwithstanding Investigative journalism has proved a potent weapon for helping change policies, bringing to book those that antagonize the public order and shined a special light down the path of a society that is better for everyone. The National Social Security Fund besides its official mandatory duty of enabling people plan for retirement as a statutory role, understands and appreciates the critical role that journalism does in society and thus continues to be socially responsible in a number of ways. Through its corporate social responsibility like NSSF friends with Benefits, among others to uplift the standards of life for the Ugandans. As a deliberate effort to improve the lives of Ugandans through the use of investigative journalism. The NSSF on 31st August 2020 kickstarted the month of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism with a smile through donating Laptops to support the cause of good journalism and in-depth story telling. The donation came in as part of the Funds Corporate Social Responsibility plan to allow the center easily facilitate the process of investigative story telling. The donation was handed over by Babra Teddy Arimi the head of Marketing at NSSF at the ceremony that was graced by the different people at the NSSF including Victor Karamaji the Public Relations manager at NSSF .The Executive Director of the African Institute for Investigative Journalism Solomon Serwanjja received the donation on behalf of the Institute at the event where he commended the management of NSSF for seeing good in investigative journalism and supporting the institute to continue doing the work of capacity building,mentorship,litigation, and giving grants to the young investigative journalists as a deliberate effort to build the next generation of investigative journalism . NSSF thanked the Executive Director of the Institute for making Uganda proud by winning the Komla Dumor BBC award of 2019 and continuing to raise Uganda’s journalism banner to the world .In the same regard, encouraged him to do more of the good investigations as well as mentoring and training more investigative journalists to shape society for the betterment of the country. The Executive Director as well noted that investigative journalism is the future of journalism and thus requires journalists that have received mentorship and training therefore highlighting the need for more resources towards the same cause. The African institute for Investigative journalism is an initiative by Solomon Serwanjja to provide a home to Investigative journalism on the African Continent and using investigative journalism as a tool of ensuring public accountability. The institute continues to call upon organizations in public, private and civil society to partner and handle a number of projects that include, investigative stories, and fellowships.