Daily Monitor’s humble starting and RSF’s blurring mandate

Almost 20 years ago, a group of six journalists in Uganda decided enough was enough. They parked their notepads, rolled their sleeves and started a new Newspaper. As they left their former employer, The Weekly Topic, this group of six, hardily had any serious assets; physical or financial to invest in the new business. They had no political clout and neither did they have any strong godfathers since their former employer was a business owned by some senior government officials.
 Arthur Asiimwe
Arthur Asiimwe

Almost 20 years ago, a group of six journalists in Uganda decided enough was enough. They parked their notepads, rolled their sleeves and started a new Newspaper.

As they left their former employer, The Weekly Topic, this group of six, hardily had any serious assets; physical or financial to invest in the new business. They had no political clout and neither did they have any strong godfathers since their former employer was a business owned by some senior government officials.

They had the skills, commitment and a common vision for the journey they were about to undertake.

In July 1992, the Daily Monitor was born amidst a tight political terrain and open hostility towards this bunch of rebellious journalists. Its survival was a dream even to the people behind it.

They had to navigate skillfully through tough waters with some incidents of skewed competition all aimed at squeezing out their stubbornness. But their source of inspiration was the growing recognition of their work, mainly appreciated for their level of professionalism.

This is a simple story that James (Jimmy) Serugo, one of the six founders of the Daily Monitor shared with delegates attending Rwanda’s annual media dialogue last week.  He said that one of the reasons that kept them moving was sticking to the principles that guided their earlier decision.

One of these tenets was to stay together both in good and bitter moments. They rallied behind one of their colleague as the leader and no matter what weaknesses he had, they accommodated it.

Six years after, they posted a turnover of Uganda. Shs 6 billion and today Daily Monitor has grown into a respected, highly independent media outlet posting, as of last year up to Shs. 30 billion in turn-over.

But the trick also, was knowing when to quit. When the Daily Monitor became a household brand, posting an impressive balance sheet and growing beyond their managerial capacity, they invited a new strategic investor to drive the business to another level. That/s when the Nation Media Group came in.

So one would ask, what’s the moral of this story?

I have repeated this in so many fora, that unless members of our forth estate recognize and appreciate the need for working together, they will never make any significant headway in terms of uplifting this industry.

Our market is not only small to accommodate the numerous brief-case media outlets (which might mushroom once self-licensing of print media is adopted) but the value of building synergies by coming together is completely lost.

Our media have failed to recognize the value of putting their brains together, harnessing the minimal resources to come up with serious business oriented media outlets. Instead they have held on to their non-profit, non-productive and non-informative or educative titles that hardily serve any purpose.

Each of the six founders of the Daily Monitor publication had the skills, expertise and experience to start their own newspaper. Each of them had the capacity to be the boss of the other but they chose to stick together because of the diversity in their skills that they so much needed to grow their new business.

They stayed in the marriage, knowing well the value of having six brains each morning brainstorming how best to drive their vision ahead .
Dare extend this kind of advice to our local “media moguls” especially the Kinyarwanda titles and see what kind of reaction you receive. They treat it as either an insult to their conscience or simply laugh it off.

This is what fellows like RSF have failed to understand when it comes to Rwanda’s media industry. They have instead chosen an agenda that is certainly not constructive and closes all doors to meaningful debate on how to grow this sector.

Take an example of their recent statement where they condemned the arrest of two journalists; one for driving under the influence of alcohol and another for stealing a laptop.

How RSF relates these two cases to their journalistic work is what stands out as bizarre. Since when did journalism become a comfort zone for crime breaking ----when did a professional that demands accountability become an epitome of immunity? That a journalist can drive under the influence of alcohol and be spared simply because he’s a Journalist.

But there’s certainly a hidden intuition to this kind of gesture. Within their own Capitals, drink-driving is something heavily punishable by law even if you had diplomatic immunity. When it comes to Africa, punishing such acts is not a piece of legislation befitting our level---it is simply punching beyond our weight.

The problem is that as these groups promote or demand accountability, we do not know who holds them accountable. We wonder whether the tax-payer bankrolling their activities has a ground for demanding value for money.  And we ask ourselves; is it about noise-making or making some noise with some substance?

akaeus@yahoo.com

Twitter @aasiimwe

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