The just concluded International Conference on the media in Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) media bodies determined to move past the challenges they face in order to achieve freedom and professionalism.
Daniel Kilinaki, the Managing Editor of The Daily Monitor, Uganda, criticised reporters who mimic western journalists’ styles of reporting instead of contacting their very own regional experts.
“The mirage of western reporting has continued to influence regional coverage and our journalists fall prey to it. Quality, accurate and current stories can be told by our journalists within the region in order to avoid distortion of information by the west,” he challenged.
“The image of Africa is not gloom and doom as depicted by the west. Africa is neither a hopeless or comfortable place to be. However, the challenge rests on us to report about conflicts better and not only gloss about the good things happening,” Kalinaki stated.
He further said that the repression and censorship of the government and individuals in authority has continued to negatively influence media freedom in the region.
The focal point of the meeting was to find lasting solutions to the challenges facing media development and the promotion of freedom and professionalism of the media in the Great Lakes Region.
Various participants cited the numerous challenges of the media in the Great Lakes and brainstormed on ways of reinforcing lasting solutions.
The meeting convened at a backdrop the media is facing challenges of lack of professionalism slowing its progress in the region.
According to Generali Wamwengu, of Tanzania, the persistent unwillingness of people to change and the lack of proper trainings has led to lack of professionalism.
“People resist change irrationally and when progress fails, they immediately decide to implement new ventures which require time to establish,” he said.
Adding that the collapse of primary schools in the region where basic English grammar is taught has repercussions on the quality of media professionalism.
He further sighted that the relentless opening of media houses with unqualified journalists who distort information has hampered media progress and this has led to the death of journalism. Other setbacks were linked to the continuous political instability that has tainted the great lake region.
The DR Congo war, Somalia’s notorious pirates, Sudan, Darfur, coupled with other various rebel factions that are littered within the region.
Louis Kamanzi, Director of Rwanda Media Ethics, exposed challenges faced by the private media in Rwanda. He said that the lack of competent printeries has led to poor print, consumption and circulation around the country thus limiting information to the urban areas. As a result of this, high costs are incurred to run media houses since majority print from neighbouring countries.
Kamanzi said the issue of high taxation of electronic media equipment which has led to limited means of research and programme development hence the lack of quality production.
The media in the Great Lakes region generally face stagnantisation due to the regions terrain, poor infrastructural and technological problems, inadequacy of media laws and regulatory bodies, fear of prosecution by legal frameworks and also the continuous oppression of press freedom and human rights. On the other hand, a lot can be done differently to achieve media professionalism, ethics and credibility.
According to Dr. Monica Chitiba, a senior lecturer at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Makerere University Kampala, the media has a major role to play.
This is in terms of informing the public by scrutinizing the way power is exercised in the region politically by governments, economically by business institutions, culturally by differences in ethnicity and religion and coercively by the military.
Chitiba further noted the similarities of the Great Lake Region in terms of a common history of colonialism, borders, poverty, ethnic diversities, young democracies and populations, inequalities based on gender, and the rapidly changing political phase as a common ground to unite and achieve standard professionalism in media.
“There is need for the media to appreciate our history and culture, understand issues in the region, focus on effective information gathering and processing abilities, verification of facts and put emphasis on explanation and analysis that is relevant to the realities of the Great Lakes Region,” Chitiba explained.
In this regard, linking ethical, critical, question asking, explanatory and relevant journalism the media in the Great Lake Region will achieve credibility, professionalism and development.
The meeting brought together the 11 ICGLR member states with major media bodies like the Rwanda High Council of the Media, Media Foundation of Ghana, National Media Coordinators of the Great Lakes Region, representatives from the Ministries of Information as well as the relevant United Nations Agencies.