Via the African Centre for Media Excellence, a thoughtful commentary that applies to journalists everywhere: Why the nodding disease should make us re-examine our journalism. Excerpt:
If, as reports in the Daily Monitor and The Observer have noted, at least 3,000 children had been affected by the disease in the seven districts by December 2011, and yet Uganda’s leading media houses had not realised the seriousness of such a prevalent problem until the MPs spoke out, then we need to ask ourselves some hard questions:
1. Until late last year, where were we – the journalists?
2. How did this nodding disease spread so widely, affect so many children and cause so many deaths under our very own noses?
3. How did we not, at the very least, notice a trend from the few stories that some of us had written about the disease?
4. If the MPs had not brought the issue to Parliament, how much longer would the disease have ravaged the children in northern Uganda before we finally gave it sufficient attention?
It is no secret that many journalists, especially non-staff reporters, operate under very difficult conditions – even in the country’s leading media houses. I will therefore not go into those problems that we cannot do away with in the near-future (although it doesn’t mean we should stop trying).
One of the key issues coverage of nodding disease has once again exposed is the scope of our news coverage and the importance that we attach to stories from the countryside. Had the nodding disease attacked children in Kampala in December 2009, I believe we would have dedicated lots of newspaper space and broadcast airtime to highlighting its devastating effects – and perhaps compelled the government to act much earlier.
Kampala, and its immediate neighbouring districts, currently has arguably more journalists (and certainly the most experienced) than the rest of the country combined. The argument for this imbalance, besides of course the pay packages, is that media houses need all their top journalists at their respective headquarters because they are able to write about ‘the big picture’.
But what is that big picture and can it only be seen from Kampala? My take is that the big picture is not only visible from Kampala, because big picture issues are those that affect Ugandans in any part of Uganda. If anything, whatever problem people in Kampala face is likely to be multiplied several times in the countryside. If the price of fuel goes up by 50% in Kampala, it is likely to go up by up to 100 to 150% in the districts of Moroto, Adjumani or Bundibugyo. If Mulago Hospital has only five kidney dialysis machines or incubators, Soroti Hospital is likely not to have even one. And the situation is likely to be worse the lower one goes down the health centre structure.
We often fault global media houses for flying reporters to our countries for a few days to file half-baked stories that do not reflect the reality on the ground. Yet we are replicating the same model in our setting.
If CNN stations one foreign correspondent in Nairobi to cover the entire East and Central Africa, and we assign one ill-equipped reporter to cover the whole of the West Nile region or the entire Karamoja region, what moral authority do we have to criticise CNN?
It is only when we get wind of a big story like the nodding disease that we parachute one or two experienced reporters to the affected parts of the country to write one or two special reports and take pictures.