By Dennis Katungi
Why does ‘Fake & Bad’ news dominate all media spaces over Good News!
Government exerts enormous effort on good things for citizens. It constructs roads, power dams, factories, schools, hospitals, water systems etc. Government immunizes all the nations’ children, gives grants and scholarships to needy students and provides the often criticised universal education. There’s a semblance of national health-care, albeit inadequate, but the basics are provided. We see a major drive to help Youth into employment. However, these are neither the stories dominating on social media platforms nor in the mainstream print & electronic media.
There’s a common dictum in journalism: ‘If a dog bites a man, that’s not news, but if a man bites a dog’- great news!
Take a random snapshot on Print Media: Wednesday 23rd August 2017 Dailies: ‘Chaos in ISO’ ‘Stolen CPS guns hired to Criminals’, Kayihura names trader in murders, BUBU: Mutebile, Kyambadde clash’, Gwanga faces 5 years in Prison, ‘Technical Institute rots away despite Govt. support’, Lawyer quizzed over Cemetry’, Former Crane Bank employees sue dfcu’. This captures the major news stories on front pages of 3 widely read Newspapers in Uganda on a particular day. It could be repeated routinely.
Many people criticize social media as the major source of; ‘Fake News’, but mainstream media could equally be accused of prioritising bad over good News.
Talking of Social Media, the first electronic mail between heads of government was sent on 4th February 1994, from then Swedish Prime Minister Calrl Bildt to then US president Bill Clinton. Bildt congratulated Clinton on the lifting of the Vietnam embargo and President Clinton replied ‘I appreciate your enthusiasm for the potential of emerging technologies; this demonstration of electronic communication is an important step toward building the global information highway’.
Neither Bildt nor Clinton could have anticipated the speed at which the ‘global information highway’ would engulf all of us. @jack (aka Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s founder) sent the first ever tweet at tea time on 21st March 2006. Within 3 years, a billion tweets had been sent. 100 accounts are started every second. Add facebook, instagram & whatsApp & you have a whole new world!
We now live and breathe ‘virtually’ to coin a phrase! This is an area Government should take seriously. The same space used for fake news can be utilized for the propagation of positive news stories and output of revealing statistics that undo detractors’ lies. As we all know, Newspapers have very limited space, and their space is costly too.
In order to put out the good news that really abound, I would argue that all government employees with basic knowledge of IT and access to the internet should sign up to social media accounts. If the total civil service, including local governments were out there pushing positive news on the whole spectrum of social media the total sum would be powerful. Moreover, it would be easy to spot ‘fake news’ to counter with accurate information. As it stands, it is the vociferous critics and negative cyber-nerds of the Voltaire Okwalinga type that proliferate.
Our Diplomats in Missions abroad should all have live social media accounts. The few Uganda Embassies (with a few exceptions) I have visited abroad appear to be a relic of the old colonial civil service type! Prime Minister Bildt was the first to make it compulsory for all Swedish ambassadors to have social media accounts in 1994. We should follow suit.
I was in London when Joshua Cheptegei won Silver for Uganda a few weeks back. I was taken aback that our Mission was not lapping up the excitement or throwing a red-carpet engagement for our athletes at Trafalgar square. Save for my efforts, together with our Defence Attaché Brig. Mathew Gureme, the team would have returned to Uganda quietly, but I and Brig. Gureme made sure that our Mission hosted them for Press and photo opportunities. Only social media highlighted the news, not our mainstream newspapers.
Increasingly, in the tech-savvy countries, tweets & short on-line bulletins are replacing carefully scripted long formal statements to deliver or amplify existing messages. One of the keen and ardent supporters of Social Media usage in Government is Hon. Frank Tumwebaze appropriately Minster for ICT & National Guidance.
He is taking this a notch higher by arranging Open Government sessions – where Ministries, Departments & Agencies of government spend 3-4 hours giving a snap-shot of what they have been up to in their respective MDAs.
The President will launch Open Government on 21st Sept, at the conference hall by his Office adjacent to Parliament. If the Cabinet could follow the trend that Hon Tumwebaze is setting, Government would earn mileage and visibility locally and abroad.
The Writer is the Communications & Media Relations Manager Uganda Media Centre