Uganda is a highly politicized country. Politics dominate public debate from January to December and people never get tired of discussing political affairs. All this is due to the fact that media in the country has prioritized politics and the public and the media owners themselves have been conditioned to believe that if you don’t cover politics, your sales will dwindle as people will not buy your media products. At the same time the public is always looking out for sensational political stories from the media. The media shapes public opinion, though not exclusively. The mainstream media including print, TV and radio still has a strong role in what ought to be discussed by the public. Though social media is slowly taking a share in directing public debate, this also still almost exclusively depends on the mainstream media for newsfeed. So for all intents and purposes, the main media choses what is important and what is not. Anything they chose to focus on is what will preoccupy public debate. And for many years now the major focus of media has been politics and celebrities. These have become the most important things that preoccupy public discussion. Uganda may not be a unique case of a nation being too political. The difference is that other countries do it in moderation and also have a fallback position. So what is the problem with Uganda’s media? Its lack of focus and interest on what matters most for every country – infrastructure. Information about infrastructure in Uganda is as scanty as snow in a desert. Even where it is found, it is as plain as it can get. There is limited research and interest about the subject. Journalists that would have shown interest in this area are not supported by their mother media houses. There is general lack of interest in infrastructure stories which has cascaded right from newsrooms on to the ordinary persons on the streets. The media in Uganda ought to know that if it doesn’t appear in the media then it becomes less important.
The media is the mirror of society. It is supposed to “bend” society into reading certain stories so as to arouse the interest and also for education purposes. The media shapes public opinion and also determines the stories that matter. If they keep on focusing on celebrities, that will regrettably what majority of people will take as being important. The earlier the media reorients the public to start thinking about infrastructure the better. If we continue focusing on trivial issues as a country, it shall take more time and resources for us to achieve the things we would have achieved earlier. In other words we are postponing our development. Development is worked for, and nothing is regarded as development without infrastructure. Infrastructure defines the civilization of human beings. Talk about buildings, homes, schools, hospitals, roads and entire cities, all this infrastructure that human beings use to live better lives. Majority of news media have left individual journalists to train themselves in reporting about infrastructure. There is no systematic approach to develop the capacity of journalists to accurately report about infrastructure, let alone carrying out in-depth research. There are some media houses that can go on for over a month without ever reporting anything about infrastructure.
Policy makers too are influenced by the media. If the media is not guiding on what should be important, it is possible that public policy makers could also join on to the band wagon to think that “celebrity talk” will develop Uganda at some stage! No wonder government is nowadays being pressured to support the music industry at the expense of important public infrastructure that is lacking especially in most of our urban areas.
The New Vision, currently the largest media house in Uganda, has to a great extent tried to become innovative in incorporating news related to infrastructure especially in their flagship newspaper publication. They recently introduced an Infrastructure pull out magazine in their Monday edition. This is a commendable action. However, it is a token action compared to the prominence they give other stories across their spectrum. Media houses need to do more than making a ritual of publishing eight pages of poorly researched information on infrastructure just for the sake of publishing. Armchair journalism cannot help infrastructure growth in a country. You will need proactive journalism with well-informed writers taking the front seat of driving the infrastructure sector with the latest information that would pull both the policy makers and the public to truly appreciate the importance of infrastructure. For instance, of all the challenges of the city of Kampala, which range from flooding, to poor road network and poor housing, the media houses are not providing the much needed guidance about some of the workable solutions. All they do is to seek out for interviews with city managers and politicians who, unfortunately are as “green” as journalists themselves. We beseech journalists to develop interest on to become serious reporters about infrastructure. That way, we shall have made a fundamental contribution to the development of the country as the fourth estate.