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COMMENT: Rethinking role of media

There is tendency in Uganda for the `privilegentia’ to prescribe a role for the mass media that only furthers their privileges 

By: Isabella Bwiire

Talking about the role of the media, pre-supposes that journalists being the main players in the mass media are not value neutral. This of course doesn’t mean espousing personal values in print or on air. It means declaring the core value that we have a stake in public life.

By African standards, Uganda has a vibrant and relatively free independent press. Some people think this is something to get down to our knees and thank the government for. I say NO because this freedom was not bestowed upon us by government, at least not willingly.

The birth of independent media saw newspaper venture into previously taboo areas.  That is how the mass media extended the horizons; not just of reporting news, but of public debate, criticism and commentary.

Almost unconsciously, more and more of the intellectuals and political elite who previously would probably have settled their differences by pulling guns at each other, now prefer to fight it out on opinion pages of the major newspapers or airwaves. Even the quality of public debate has improved though we still have those who imagine one can only win an argument by how many ugly names and abusive labels you hurl at the other side.

I strongly think it is mainly the independent media houses that have helped to cultivate this culture of listening to others, agreeing or disagree but still sitting at the same table. Somehow, by causing the opposition and the government to engage in a dialogue about democracy and all the other issues, the mass media blazes a trend towards greater tolerance, mutual respect of other people’s views and beliefs and ultimately more peaceful ways of resolving conflicts.

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