Every day we talk about how relevant being online is. How traditional media is facing a huge dilemma and how Twitter is so far breaking news faster than any one could imagine. And so as a advocate of Social Media I have strong feelings for news online. And I also have a soft spot for the traditional media; after all ‘it gave birth to my instincts to join journalism.’ As I struggle to defend my position, I realize that the transition and the future is reliant on so many things. However what we need to never stop doing getting “the basics” right as news tellers.
This is why I am saying what I am saying.
I have just come back from the brilliant Deutsche-Welle Global Media Forum for this year and most of the topics discussed revolved on the use of social media and the internet to help the media in telling the stories that need to be told. Pertinent questions were asked:
Quality vs Quantity:
how is traditional media responding to the rise of social media?
What role do whistle-blowers play and what are the limits of freedom of the press and
The changing face of African Media: what are the opportunities of public participation?
[That is what the internet encourages. Everyone has an opinion, and they can
voice it for free.]
News and information have become more immediate and omnipresent than ever. How does this affect policy-makers’ actions and individuals’ personal roles in political communications?
Does Africa’s online revolution present an opportunity for democratization? These are questions that are worth asking and while they may not get comprehensive and immediate answers but they do create a buzz or conversation.
First forward; I got back yesterday morning and had to sleep off the jetlag. In the evening I got onto my computer and there was a #Payme96mn
hashtag that had Ugandans all riled up. I asked for what was going on before I could contribute or rather to get some context. I was forwarded a document via email and told some people are earning 96 million shillings [about $38,400] in State House. Funny thing is I went through the document, but failed to find the said 96million shillings. [I want to blame the jetlag]. The document was the Ministerial Policy Statement for the Presidency. It has in detail the planned outputs and activities and budgets for the year 2014/2015. It was tabled before Parliament yesterday evening.
run a story in their prime news bulletin that was in line with the hashtag. It showed members of Parliament commenting about the estimates in the budget specifically in reference to the members of staff of the State house that are earning 96 million shillings and 78 million shillings. I remember a Member of Parliament asking if they were ‘super’ civil servants.
|The Presser that was released this morning
This morning a presser was released saying that the ‘commas’ were put in the wrong place. This meant that it is supposed to be 9,600,000 million shillings per month [$3,840] at the current rate.
It was a face palm moment for me when I found out that, because of the comments that I saw on Twitter yesterday. Though some people still say that the ‘presser’ is not explanation enough.
Then I thought to myself: who is in the wrong and how did we get here? The hashtag created, the news story run on NTV or the Office of the President which messed up the details? Who is to blame? [That is the African way of doing things, No? Excuse the stereotype but we are always looking for someone to blame.]
When I first heard of the salary, I thought to myself: that is not a lot of money. They must be very skilled at what they do, or they must have high risk jobs. I thought about the animal farm ideology and the fact that while all animals may be equal, some are more equal than others. The truth is people do get this amount of money per month and much more. Whether they are civil servants or owners of the businesses or companies, they do. It is a lot but not that a lot.
When the story was run on NTV, I thought again to myself. The members of parliament are jealous. They asked for ipads, asked for cars and have not more than once allowed for their salaries to be increased while they fail to agree on a minimum wage for the country’s citizens. In my opinion, they are not supposed to be talking. They have so many
times earned more than they should. Double standards I thought. And then I came across
this, written by a journalist and friend. [We did our under grad course in Journalism together] Mark Keith Muhumuza
government has its failings. A partly failed healthcare system, quantitative
education system, . However, sometimes it is important to also interrogate
data. This to avoid falling in the trap of someone else’s agenda. The issue of
State House salaries made its rounds on social media yesterday. As
journalists/newsrooms – those who reported the story of the Ugx96m per month –
fell into the trap of “is and
was.” The document is about 450 pages, the focus was on one page.
Here is what we get from other pages: The State
House wage expenditure in 2012/13 was 6bn. Then it rose to 6.9bn in 2013/14. In
2014/15 it will be 10bn.
So if the document indicates 96m monthly salary for
some individuals, it would bring the wage budget to 174bn. There would a
variance of about 81bn. The non-wage budget, which includes allowances, donations
and travel is about 230bn. Then there is another 17bn spent on development
projects. That would mean the State House budget would be in the
region of about 450bn. If they came in and requested for a supplementary
budget, that would bring the figure to about 600bn.
Call me “uncynical” – new word – but the
figures did not make sense. Indeed there were typos. I refused to jump on that
bandwagon. When you read the document further, you’ll see that salaries will
increase, donations money will increase and classified expenditure will be on
the rise but not on that [96m a month] scale. The non-wage budget is the
elephant in the room…. Classified expenditure will increase from 18bn to 36bn
in FY2014/15. Also presidential donations will increase from 80.6bn to 90.6bn.
Additionally, expenditure on transport equipment will increase from 688m to
11bn – [5.3bn to cater for a deposit on the procurement of a Presidential
If State House Scholarships were scrapped, why
doesn’t this translate into reduced expenditure?
For the media, Can we blame “shrinked” newsrooms?
Can we afford fact-checking editors? Can we do more to verify figures and
Fact – checking is a basic, but one that we seldom pay attention to. As we look for someone to balme, how about we get down to doing our part right, fast? Both the social media gurus [who created the hashtag] and the traditional media [that run the story] did not think about the other side of the story. Do the numbers add up? What is the budget looking like? Why this much?
If the media in Uganda wants to be a respected institution as the 4th Estate, then the respect must be earned. If the social media ‘gurus’ want to be respected, we need to get the basics of news telling right as well.
Context is important. We need to dig deeper and help people understand what exactly is wrong with what it is that we are giving to them. The growth of digital media is having a strong influence on politics and the growth of
democracy in Africa. It is fast, it is quick: but we have to get the basics right. We need to!
I don’t know if I would have thought like Mark. As a journalist or Editor, I don’t know if I would have thought and done better. But I have learned a huge lesson.
For God, and My Country.