The late Dr Samson Kisekka, then vice president of Uganda, was once invited to officiate at a car rally event. He remarked that he liked motor rallying a lot, because the rich invested in it enormous sums of money while the poor watched the sport without paying for it.
He made the statement when I was a school-going child, but it has stuck with me to this day because of its significance to me then. In those days – the 1990s – we would choose spots and stand on elevated grounds to give ourselves the best chance of watching the rally cars fly by. If you managed to perch on the branch of a tree, for instance, you would have a good chance of watching the cars over a longer stretch. My favourite driver was Chipper Adams, and I was especially fascinated by the way he took corners.
We would watch the cars for a few short seconds each and that would be it. But the thrill of it, as is evident here, lasts a life time. It is even more serious with journalism. If journalism is done with the required level of professionalism and seriousness, those who consume it are bound to be a lot more informed and generally more attuned to performing their role as citizens than those who don’t. Because of its ability to empower citizens and build stronger polities, journalism is an essential public good.
But our journalism is currently under threat. There is increasingly less and less capability to do deep journalism in Uganda because of different reasons. One of the key challenges of our journalism is funding.
Less and less Ugandans are willing to pay for journalism products, yet good journalism is very expensive to produce. Print newspapers are fast disappearing, and plans are afoot for publications to hide their best journalism online behind paywalls, so that only those who can pay may access the content. This is now the trend globally.
But, available data shows, not even a quarter of the users of an online publication is converted into paying customers when news websites erect paywalls. This means that over 75% of those who previously visited the sites now have to make do without accessing the sources of information they used to access. Many then resort to unprocessed, unverified information that flies by in torrents on social media platforms. This leaves the society much less informed or ill-informed.
It is for this reason that I invoked the late Kisekka’s idea above. If Ugandans of means appreciated the importance of journalism to society, I have no doubt that they would be able to finance it. This could, for instance, take the form of funding this or any other publication to report a particular story.
In taking the decision to found this publication, we took note of the challenges that media organisations in this country face, but decided that it makes more sense to listen to our aspirations and the voices of hope than to be subdued by our fears. We are committed to doing in-depth reporting on health, education, economy, politics, our history, people and all manner of important subjects. That is why we chose to call the publication MainstreamUg. We shall sift substance from the noise and not dwell on peripheral issues.
In doing our journalism, we shall be guided by the principles of non-partisanship; editorial autonomy; the pursuit of truth, fairness and objectivity; integrity; and authenticity, so that the truth that we pursue is in tandem with the legitimate aspirations of Ugandans.
We have published this as a public pledge to you, our reader, so that you may at all times invoke it whenever you feel that we are diverting from our promise.
For God and my Country,
Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi,