Of all the stories that got covered this year, what would top the list of the most grossly misreported? Few, if any, would edge out the death of Brian Bukenya, son to Vice President Gilbert Bukenya, and that of former army commander Maj. Gen. James Kazini.
They were part of a spate of deaths, and near deaths, carrying on from the last weeks of October into November. Save for Kazini’s, all the rest were a result of three road accidents that claimed the lives of upwards of 20 people including Brian’s and President Museveni’s advisor Fr. Albert Byaruhanga.
The way those deaths were covered revealed a far more frightening threat within sections of our news media than our current repressive state might ever pose to us. This threat combines self-censorship, pandering to and reproducing the official government statement(s), and cultural attitudes of singing the praises of the dead whether they exist or not. About self-censorship though, some people might argue the state already planted, watered and weeded that seed and like a contented farmer has no need of constantly returning to the garden when it comes into its full bloom.
Granted, death in Uganda can’t boast such a huge shock effect on us. We seem to have become numb to it either because of our long history of losses, most particularly through unnecessary conflicts and wars, or because we go about our daily lives with death so close to us, from preventable diseases to reckless driving, that we seem to have learnt to live with it.
You tell this from our unofficial standard way of condolence; that’s life [get over with it]. But then, every once in a while death easily shatters through that supposed numbness with such fury and abandon claiming in its trail powerful figures that seemed immortal to us forcing us into self-reflection about it. Kazini’s was one such death, the “immortal” figure that many eulogised practically as a military ‘virtuoso’.
For journalists and news media, there is reason to feel frightened at how we revealed, in the ensuing reportage of the two deaths, our deep acquiescence with the official version and the effects of tagging at the coattails of people we’ve ringed off as newsmakers.
From the day journalism chose as one of its mantras that if it bleeds it leads, we locked ourselves up in such difficult moral dilemmas as for instance reporting stories about loss, especially loss of human life. How do you extricate yourself from that shared sense of loss to ask the penetrating questions that are expected of you as a reporter? How do you balance your desire to write a guaranteed lead story, which is every reporter’s desire, against the nudging feeling you are turning into benefit another person’s loss?
Like people in the business of selling caskets, or services of funeral homes that are the craze now, what prayers should or does a reporter make every morning when he or she sets off to work? But then, can we really say these dilemmas were at play in the reportage of the deaths in question? We will begin with Brian’s, VP Bukenya’s son. Continue reading