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Journalists Cautioned Against Working as Media Advisors for Sources

On Wednesday as former Works Minister General Katumba Wamala communicated on social media to Ugandans about the sad attack that left his daughter Brenda Nantongo and driver Haruna Kayondo dead, he revealed information that Dorah Atwongyeire was his official spokesperson. Atwongyeire is the online editor for Next Media Services which owns NBS, Nile Post and Next Radio among others.
Journalists during the swearin in ceremony at parliament. Photo by Olive Nakatudde

Audio 3



Media experts have spoken against the rising trend of journalists working as media advisors for individuals and organizations they are supposed to hold accountable.

With the emergence of social media as a key space for communication and the need for visibility in the traditional media, individuals and entities have sought the services of journalists as media advisors. 

The journalists have helped news sources like politicians, businessmen, Government agencies, and religious institutions among others with organizing press conferences, writing press releases, developing communication strategies, and also working as spokesperson for several institutions and person while still in active newsrooms.

Others have gone on to become personal assistants to news sources, completely crossing the boundaries. 

 

Just last year, Sheila Nduhukire while working as a  Journalist with NBS TV worked as a lead communications strategist for Hoima Sugar and her role was defending the company that was investing in a sugarcane plantation in a 22 Square mile land in the contested Bugoma forest.  This however, led to wide criticism from some members of the public who said she was sweeping her communications career down the trenches.

Another case was that of journalist Charles Etukuri. Working as a senior Journalist at the New Vision, Etukuri also managed several accounts of top Government officials including that of former Inspector General of police Kale Kayihura. When this information came out, several people including journalists in the different platforms said Etukuri was overstepping the mark of a journalist.

On Wednesday as former Works Minister General Katumba Wamala communicated on social media to Ugandans about the sad attack that left his daughter Brenda Nantongo and driver Haruna Kayondo dead, he revealed information that Dorah Atwongyeire was his official spokesperson. Atwongyeire is the online editor for Next Media Services which owns NBS TV, Nile Post online news and Next Radio among others.

This raised concern from several media literate Ugandans on twitter who challenged media houses for allowing their workers to work for sources they should be questioning.

“The online editor of a "top media house" is also the official spokesperson of a top general in the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF). How does the media house, which claims to be private and independent, fight off the rampant accusations of being captured or a tool for state propaganda?” a social media user asks.

The post would generate discussions forcing General Katumba or his social media handler to delete the post, which also had contact of Dorah Atwongyeire for anyone who wants to reach Katumba to call.   

   

Now media experts say that journalists cannot remain credible if they work with them or for them.

Dr Peter Mwesige, the Executive Director African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) says that it is not okay for journalists to work for the same people they cover. He says this is questionable and it does not inspire confidence in the public that journalists are doing their work.

Mwesige says that if he were in charge of a newsroom, he would not allow his employees to do so, adding that they will have to declare their interest, but also this has to be very clear. He says if a journalist wants to be a media advisor, he should quit journalism.

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Dr William Tayebwa, a senior lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Communications at Makerere University says that working for companies and individuals yet one is a journalist without declaring a conflict of interest is unethical.

Tayebwa says that the fact that conflict of interest is not declared makes it unethical. He says that the bar is higher for journalists because they are supposed to hold the very people to account.

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Dr. George Lugalambi a media expert says that a journalist working for powerful people and Government officials that they are supposed to cover breaches the basic principles of journalism of conflict of interest.

He says that any professional journalist worth their name should not be speaking for an individual who is likely to be the subject of coverage by the same media house.

He says that this is avoidable and but this is being done willingly and intentionally. He says journalists lose impartiality if they are to report about the individuals. Lugalambi says that if there are functional systems in media houses, they should not allow this.

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On his part, Charles Etukuri who was once managing an account of former IGP Kale Kayihura says that it is possible for one to handle the communications for such people, and still report on them. According to Etukuri, although he was handling Gen Kayihura’s social media accounts, he was still writing stories about him.

“As one of the people running the accounts of the former IGP, I still wrote tough stories about him. Some times you are basically communicating the person’s itinerary and daily events. Some time we do not handle these accounts for the purpose of pay, but because they know you have some bit of time and expertise” he says.

He says that it is true that sometimes someones gets taken up, starting to defend the sources, attacking anyone who comments on the person among others.

“If you are having it professionally, you will work it out. I don’t think there is anybody who has handled police stories more than me, yet I was handling Gen Kayihura’s account, the key thing is do not cross the line” Etukuri says.  

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