Media deserve only five out of ten for promoting oil transparency
The development of Uganda’s media is hampered not only by political pressure from the ruling party but also by lack of professionalism, stemming from the attitude of media owners who care more about short-term profits than about good journalism, says Dr. Peter Mwesige in this exclusive, wide-ranging interview with Oil in Uganda.
Media reporting on oil, Dr. Mwesige goes on to argue, has—alongside NGO and development partner efforts at sensitisation—contributed to wider public knowledge and understanding of important issues. But despite some progress, there is too little serious investigation and too much reporting without supporting evidence (especially about land issues). Some downright misinformation continues to reach the public—notably from influential, local radio broadcasters. Greater efforts should be made to reach and inform these important opinion-makers, Dr. Mwesige concludes. And journalists and NGOs should be wary of cutting off the supply of information from government sources by taking too aggressive an attitude.
The full transcript follows. Questions were put by Nick Young
Can I ask you first to give a quick overview of how you would assess the freedom of media in Uganda. Over the years it’s often been said that one of the positives of President Museveni’s government has been a lively, relatively free and independent media. Do you agree with that assessment and how do you see the trend?
For an outsider Uganda can be a bit puzzling. Because on the face of it you have this lively, vibrant media—a whole range of FM stations and newspapers that can be quite reckless and sensational. But that masks a lot of problems. One of them is the degree of self-censoring that we’ve seen in the last five years or so. There are very many stories that never see the light of day in newspapers and especially with radio stations. And there is a lot of difference between radio stations in Kampala and radio stations in the countryside.
A lot of pressure on radio stations in the countryside is exerted by owners who are in most cases people who are close to the ruling party—they are either politicians or business people who have very close ties to the ruling party. Resident District Commissioners, police chiefs are almost like demi-gods up country, and they put a lot of pressure on newsrooms so there are a lot of subjects that never get into the public domain.
So there are some serious problems, but I still think that by and large smart newsrooms, smart journalists are able to cover a lot of subjects that perhaps don’t get as much coverage in other countries. So in comparative terms I think it’s a mixed bag. I would give Uganda about 60 out of 100.
Of course the recent siege would reduce the grading . . .
The siege of The Daily Monitor? [which the government closed down for more than a week in June, following publication of a letter from Gen. David Tinyefuza alleging that senior army officers were opposed to efforts by President Museveni to groom his son to inherit the presidency]
Yes, the siege of The Monitor, Red Pepper, KFM and Dembe FM. Before that, I would have given Uganda comfortably anywhere between 60 and 67 percent in terms of operational freedom.
Of course there’s also a challenge of standards and professionalism within the media. I know for the political class that’s often used to justify political controls. Having journalists who sometimes don’t appreciate their responsibilities and their power sometimes empowers those who want to undermine the media. Because you know when you have this bunch of journalists who don’t care about multiple sourcing about getting the story right, they give an excuse to enemies of the press. So those who are concerned about freedom of media should also be concerned about the nature, the quality, the standards of our media—how do we work on the quality of our media without undermining the freedom of expression?
This extends beyond journalists. Because I think the mistake the government here and elsewhere in Africa often makes is to assume that press freedom or media freedom is just about journalists and media owners. It’s ultimately about the public. That is a right we’re all supposed to enjoy, regardless of whether we’re professional or not.
So you’re saying that there are political obstacles and pressures, but there’s also a second issue in the capacity of the media itself to do a good job in areas where they can report. Can we focus on that? What are the constraints in the capacity of Uganda’s media? I’m a well-travelled person, Ugandans seem to me as intelligent as people anywhere else, so what stops the talent that there is in the general population, after 20 or more years of a relatively free media, what stops Uganda producing consistent quality and responsible journalism?
Before I answer that let me just go back: if you had more professional journalists, some of those stories which many newsrooms won’t touch because they think they’ll get into trouble could actually be covered intelligently. The problem here is that you have a class of journalists who are looking at two extremes: we either publish this or we don’t. For instance with that Tinyefuza story. You had KFM pulling the interview with him because the government spokesperson came late. But this person [Tinyefuza] went ahead and gave interviews to the BBC and VoA. So clearly KFM lost an opportunity to show that despite the pressure they came under from the government after the siege, they still had a chance to stand up to power and do some bold, independent reporting. I think it was really just a question of some of the leaders there lacking emotional intelligence in terms of how do we react to these continuing sensitive stories.
Now, to your question about the constraints: I think one is to do with the investment in journalism. And this is not just Uganda, it is the whole region. If you think about an organisation like the Nation Media Group—which is listed on the stock exchange and which owns The Daily Monitor, KFM, NTV—they make a lot of money. If you look at the numbers carefully, you will also discover that their return on investment is in fact higher than any reputable media house: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian and others. So they [Nation Media Group] are making a lot of money, but how much of that do they invest in their journalism?
Uganda relies largely on radio, we have more than 240 radio stations. Hardly any one of them has more than three journalists who are permanently employed and who are paid adequately to do a good job. A lot of them rely on stringers who are paid just about 5,000 shillings (USD 2) for a story. Very few of them are inspired to use their own resources to call a source, to call more sources, to enrich stories. Because if they did that they would actually end up making losses. The money they receive for a radio story they have filed is less than the amount they would require to do actual reporting—to call five or six sources, talk to some of them face to face, and file a fresh story.
So there are serious resource gaps. There is a lot of owner pressure on journalists in this country. When I look at the history of the media all over the world there are very few examples of successful media houses where owners did not ultimately care about journalism—owners who stood up said it didn’t really matter whether they made losses, they wanted to be more than just a vessel to make money, they wanted to influence public opinion, they wanted to help re-set agendas, they wanted to provide a vibrant platform for information and debate. I don’t think I would say that about Ugandan media entrepreneurs by and large. They are a laughable stock, quite frankly.
I remember attending a meeting about six years ago where the president was talking to radio owners. He was lecturing them because at the time there were a lot of freewheeling talk shows where people were hammering the government left, right and centre. He basically gave one hundred plus radio owners a lecture about how the government, or he himself, was the author of the press freedom that we were enjoying in the country. And they all looked on silently. The few who spoke up were telling him “Oh, Mr. President, for us we are not going to use our platform to give air time to enemies”—as he defined them. And who are the enemies he is defining? Opposition politicians who have a legitimate right to challenge the policies of his government. Some of these media owners actually ended up pleading with the president: “Oh, you know, since we are partners in development we need help from you: we don’t have generators, power is too expensive, can we be assisted . . . ?” It was such a sad moment.
So the calibre of the media entrepreneur you have here has a lot of impact on the quality of our journalism. I don’t think many of them think through their investment decisions and what implications they have on quality. They have a model which is questionable too, especially for radio. I am emphasising radio because of its importance in this country.
The model here is to sell air time. Not so much to advertisers, but to actually sell time and say “Can an NGO or any organisation pay for one hour of a programme and do A, B, C, D?” Very few of them think about radio in the way it’s thought about elsewhere: “Let’s grow our audiences by having compelling programming that can give us a good listernership which can then attract advertisers.”
Then, there’s the people who work in journalism. The history of, especially, newspapers in this country is very much a political one. People went into journalism more out of advocacy in the early years. It was the time of colonialism, newspapers were coming up as a voice of the people against officialdom. So over the years there was a lot of idealism that drove people into the media. This had its own problems but it had one thing going for it which was that you had these people who would do whatever it took to ensure that the story was told.
Today I am not terribly sure. I have been engaging a few friends who are still in active newsrooms and I see a lack of passion. You have a big story breaking and it is 10 p.m. and people are sleeping! They hear about it on social media and whatever but nobody really wants to go there and see what is really going on. The following day very few of them care about updating their websites to tell the story, what’s really going on. Some people say it is just lack of passion, diminishing passion, which is informed by frustration with institutional structures, the newsroom structures.
So what I’m hearing is firstly that it’s not necessarily about skills, it’s to do with unwillingness of media owners to make investments: they want to take large profits and they’ll do it any way they can. So it’s not to do with lack of skills it’s more to do, especially for radio journalists, with lack of incentives: they’re just not paid enough to do the job properly.
But in national newspapers, for example—which I imagine are slightly better resourced: they’re paid better than radio journalists—what’s the culture of the news organisation that diminishes the quality of reporting?
You’re right, the lack of skills may manifest itself as a problem, but it’s something that can be addressed, people can learn.
Yes, but this is a familiar issue not just in media, but in anything: it’s familiar in health, it’s familiar in education, etc. An NGO, or a donor, or the government itself may think “Our services aren’t good enough, so let’s train people” and it organises training courses. But in fact you very often find that even if the training courses successfully pass on skills they can’t actually be applied in the real contexts in which people are working. That’s one of the classic development failures. So what I’m asking is: what are the institutional obstacles in the media of Uganda that stops the application of skills even if those skills are ‘poured in’ from the top?
Absolutely. If you look at newspapers like The Monitor, they are driven so much by the business side of the operation than the newsroom, the journalism almost becomes secondary. If you look at their meetings, for instance, the so called “product development” meetings, they are driven by marketing people and sales people. Sometimes they have less journalists in those meetings. But this is a meeting to discuss how The Monitor should look like in the coming one year, two years. You would expect editors to be speaking up quite strongly at this kind of meeting. But what do you have? You have marketing managers, sales executives, circulation managers who are talking about all sorts of inserts, magazine ideas which they think are going to drive circulation. They end up trying them, spending lots of money on them, and they don’t work. Meanwhile, the journalists who are doing the actual work, who are producing the paper really, are seeing all the money go on these guys. And they are saying “Who cares? Why should I spend all this time doing a great story when I’m only going to be paid so little?” So people withdraw, become too cynical. There’s a lot of cynicism actually in many of these newsrooms.
But the other thing is, we don’t really have an institutional culture—I see it in very few people; maybe The Observer kind of attempts—where, from the top, the media owners, the managers, everybody appreciates the allure of good journalism, of getting it right. Being fair, being comprehensive. We’re kind of comfortable doing the bare minimum.
There are very few managers who are willing to take that risk and say: “We are going to invest in this kind of journalism; when we talk about taking our newsroom to the next level we mean it; we are going to allow people to actually go out there and do stories even if it means being off for one week, then come back here and write this ground-breaking story.” We just don’t have enough of that.
So basically in the newsroom people just don’t have the time and they don’t have the resources to do the research that would be necessary to produce a quality story.
Absolutely. Years ago I read something about Fortune magazine. Those guys employed 200 researchers when they were still a monthly, more than fifty years ago.
Fact-checkers and all that. And I’m saying: “Look! your newsrooms today, around here, don’t have 50—forget about 200—you don’t have 50 journalists. You don’t have any single fact-checker. You don’t have anybody who can look back and say ‘This is not true: this person did not get charged with this in 1997.’” There’s very little institutional memory. They’re all fairly young newsrooms: occupational mobility has been quite high, a lot of us have left newsrooms and gone on to do other things, many of us have gone into public relations. So it’s a whole mess.
Now if you look at successful newspapers elsewhere, yes they are facing serious challenges with circulation, that’s a global trend. But at least in terms of quality they have still tried to deliver that minimum.
You know, before you came in I was thinking of writing a story about how we have treated this coup in Egypt. That’s a big story, it’s supposed to be a front page story in Uganda. It’s not just that we share the Nile and whatever, it’s a big, big story. It was on page 16 in The New Vision. The Monitor didn’t have it, they had an old one about the army; they didn’t have the actual story because they went to bed before the army announced the decision to depose Morsi. Now I went to the web yesterday and checked the front pages all over the world. This is the lead story in every American newspaper! And these are guys who are so many miles away! Now do the owners, the journalists here actually care about whether we are able to set the agenda? Do they even think about this? Do we have honest conversations about what our role is? It’s almost a vicious circle: this mediocrity can only beget mediocrity because of those other factors we have talked about. There are very many smart guys in these newsrooms, very many smart young people, but they just won’t do it. And they know they could have done better, but they just won’t do it.
To what extent is the Internet and the wider availability of international news impacting on how Ugandan media operate? One could imagine the newsrooms defending themselves by saying “Well, if anyone wants to know what’s going on in Egypt, get online! It’s saturated, wall to wall; our role now is to be more local.” In which case, of course, you could say to them “Well, why not an article on the consequences for Uganda of what’s going on up there?”
But this globalisation of news: DSTV—the political class here all have DSTV, they can watch Al Jazeera, CNN—how does that impact Uganda’s media?
And the other side of that is: what about social media? You’re very engaged with Twitter and Facebook and your own [Africa Centre for Media Excellence] website, communicating with the small community of journalists through social media. These are huge topics—we could write books about them!—but what’s your general take on those two impacts?
One is that these multiple platforms have impacted newspaper circulation. There are so many people now, the middle class, who read news online, who don’t really buy a copy of the Monitor, who rely as you say on DSTV or whatever. That has affected the consumption of local news content.
But for the newsroom it has also inspired journalists to get information they would in the past have struggled with. It is very easy today to cross-check something about a company Museveni has given an award or whatever. And it has happened in the past—the president was fooled by some Malaysian company that he didn’t know was making losses and Andrew Mwenda just did a search: dum dum dum and lo and behold! See what’s happening with this company!
So there is that element, and also the element of emboldening journalists to cover stories they wouldn’t have covered because they are already being covered. So when a journalist who is under pressure, and always scared to write a story about Tinyefuza, reads and sees that ABC has published it, The New York Times has it on its website, VoA is running it, I think they will be much more comfortable doing it than if they are the only source of that story.
But the danger of course I see is that in some ways it has encouraged laziness. There are very many cases of stories that I have seen that people more or less just pluck from the Internet and splash onto the newspapers without caring about local angling. Like the Egyptian coup: believe you me it’s doing the rounds in the bars, the markets and all that, if you go to downtown Kampala today people are discussing that story. I simply can’t understand why the New Vision and the Monitor don’t realise that would be a much bigger selling story than what they had.
Social media: it is still a vocal minority, it’s now gone to 550,000 on Facebook, something like that, it’s still a small minority of people who talk to each other, you don’t see enough amplification. But for a user, for a consumer of news, social media are much more informative than the traditional media here. There could have been some more creative ways of the newsroom dealing with what is happening in that space, but you don’t have enough of that. Very few of our media tweet consistently, even when they were closed—just occasionally do one thing, spend six hours without updating it, then do another tweet. So I see a mixed bag. I don’t think we have exploited the opportunities offered by social media fully, and this is true not just of media but of other organisations including NGOs.
Is the trend in a positive direction? It’s mainly younger people, I would guess—that 550,000 figure you quoted is probably weighted by generation—but isn’t it going to grow over time? So where do you see Uganda in ten years from now?
It’s going to grow but my problem, my fear, is that social media also have their own weaknesses—you know, the verification of information . . . A good number of the people who are using this will not actually be reading the newspaper. The reading culture has really been bad, it can only get worse. So I think it’s important that they are still engaged with the more traditional forms and that they are still able to weigh things. That one worries me. And how engaged are these Ugandans who are on social media, beyond these debates? Do they attend political rallies, would they appear for a demonstration against an unpopular leader, would they write a letter to their Member of Parliament or local councillor, would they even attend local meetings? My suspicion is, actually, no. So in some ways the participation that we see on social media is illusory. You know: “We are participating, we can shout back and speak to power!” and all that, but it’s just venting. We are not really using this to say “Okay, this can’t happen anymore.” You just don’t see enough mobilisation.
But definitely the numbers are going to grow, they are growing quite fast. The number of Ugandans who are using the phone to access information is amazing, and that too is growing. And as smart phones become cheaper you’re going to see more and more Ugandans who are able to get news on their phone. But how do they use the information they are going to get? That’s where I see gaps.
Let’s move on to oil as a case in point for some of the things we’ve been discussing. You’ve been very engaged, through a grant from the Revenue Watch Institute, in training journalists to give them some basic knowledge and understanding of the technical and policy and economic issues surrounding the development of oil resources. I can’t ask you to evaluate your own project! But perhaps you could say how you think the media performance has been so far in covering the oil story, and where you think the gaps are?
If you look at the coverage from the early days, 2006, 2007, there have been some improvements definitely. Back then there is evidence from a study that was done by a professor at Columbia that a lot of our reporting here was based on single sources. It was in most cases driven either by companies or by government. There were hardly any other sources – civil society, parliament. We have seen some changes in that regard, there is a multiplicity of voices when it comes to oil, including voices of ordinary people who live in parts of the Albertine Region.
What I see as a major problem still is the question of enterprise. You don’t see enough stories that are not driven by events or company announcements or government announcements.
There is no doubt that the media here have really popularised that whole question of oil and tried to help people understand what is going on. I remember two years ago, 2011, that debate in parliament, it was broadcast live on television and for very many people it was the first time to get a sense of “Wow! What is going on with oil in this country?,” why this is a big deal, why this is important. And I have my cynicism about NGOs and all that but I quite frankly think that without the NGOs it could have been worse. Because a lot of Ugandans, including MPs, have only got to know about this oil story from workshops that have been organised by NGOs. They just didn’t know what this whole thing was about, why it was important.
So I think in some ways the level of information that is out there today is way above what we had five years ago. Is it enough? No, I don’t think it’s enough, I still think that we haven’t focused enough on what’s really going on: this technical development [pipelines and refineries etc], and we are told, for instance, that licensing was suspended but we also know that so many companies are visiting the Albertine and they may be silently signing off deals. Just very basic, routine stuff that you know would happen with an industry as lucrative as that. Are we following the money? Who owns what in which company? That, I think—investigation, enterprise—that is still lacking, but also just explaining what is at stake. The media could do a lot more there.
There is an excessive focus sometimes on livelihood issues. They are important stories but a lot of them are in my view exaggerated sometimes. How many women are involved in this, or people losing their land or whatever. Very many journalists who do those stories don’t sit back for a moment and say “What is the law in Uganda? What are the regulations? Who actually did this? Can we have an example?”
I have been challenging guys who we have trained here saying “Why can’t one of you come to me and say ‘I went to somebody in Hoima who actually signed this form and saved it’ —and I know some village folks who really care about information and are passionate: you can’t make him sign something without him having a copy which he is going to keep— ‘So if you look at this guy, for his garden of cassava of so much he was only paid so much and this is the form that the evaluator had signed, this is the form that the government valuer had signed . . .’
So, we don’t do enough on following up on these so-called scandals and controversies and all that. People are claiming land which they actually don’t own, some have settled in only recently, so in some ways we just end up adding fuel to the fire. Because as media we are sometimes gullible. You know, you hear people saying “Our oil is being stolen!” and then people jump on the bandwagon. There have been radio stations where they have discussed this seriously: “Uganda is already exporting oil, there are all these trucks going on . . .” They have no clue about what it would take to transport oil!
So I think there are some gaps but we are seeing increasing levels on knowledge on the industry and all these interventions, all these activities that have been organised by civil society, donors, whatever, they have had an impact. You may not put it in scientific terms. But the fact that you have an Oil in Uganda, that you have The Observer and maybe The Monitor getting some money from some donor to do special reporting on oil, I think that has helped. Because without those, less information would have been in the public domain, we would have been depending on PEPD, and of course they are selective.
Somebody posted yesterday that it seems government websites are pulling out all information they had previously posted about oil deposits. I don’t know if it’s true, I haven’t actually had time to follow that up, it was this guy who posted on Facebook and he was saying he doesn’t believe in coincidences. It’s something that may be worth looking into.
That’s interesting. Because one of the things about the Internet is that people rarely take off old stuff so it does actually start to give you a history, so that would be interesting if old material is being removed!
But anyway: the general picture you’re giving is that the reporting tends to be reactive, that there’s not enough anticipation, and there’s not enough serious investigation, particularly around allegations of people losing land or livelihoods or being cheated. There’s perhaps a general tendency to suppose “Well, everybody knows this is going on so we don’t have to prove it,” that kind of attitude.
But can we go back to the previous discussion about the institutional culture of the newsroom. You’ve been training journalist on a fairly detailed course of six months or more. Are those people able to get niches within Ugandan media where they can use that specialisation, or is oil reporting still spread across the general newsroom? Is there enough room for specialisation so that when an oil story is told by a newspaper it is told by someone who really does have some background and experience and knowledge of the subject?
That’s a good question, and some major media houses are moving in that direction. When you go to The New Vision you will know that the environmental aspects of the oil story are more often than not going to be covered by Gerald Tenywa who has been on our course and who has done extensive work on environment. The business aspects of this are going to be covered by Ibrahim Kasita. Monitor: by Isaac Imaka in Kampala, by Francis Mugerwa in Hoima. The Observer, by Edward Ssekika. So there is some degree of specialisation that is developing.
Again, given the challenges that we were discussing earlier, there are very few newsrooms that can afford a reporter who is covering oil only and not other issues, so you will find that some of them still end up covering a few other general stories, but at least in terms of institutional reference on oil, these are the guys who are basically the institutional go-to people when it comes to an oil story. So for me that has been encouraging. Yes, I’d say yes for The Monitor, Independent, Uganda Radio Network, New Vision.
NTV not so much. The guy who was part of our first training ended up being removed from news reporting, I think he went into news production and is very busy. In fact every time we have talked he expressed his frustration. He developed all this footage and notes and so on which he says he hasn’t had time to look at.
Well that’s the other classic problem of training: you spend all that time training someone and then, very often as a result of that training, they get promoted away from the skills that you were training them in.
Exactly. For this one actually it was before the six months had elapsed he had basically been moved. He distinguished himself, but then he was taken away.
But yes, this is a complex story so you definitely need some degree of specialisation in the media houses. In the countryside it’s a different ball game altogether. Because they don’t have the resources, they have three reporters at most, and that’s including the news editor who also doubles as the news reporter, producer and what not. So, for those ones the challenge is bigger.
But then you also have the talk shows which are quite an important avenue not just for debate but also for information. So we have argued in the past that it is as important that these people are as knowledgeable about this subject as the regular journalists, because they are the ones who are going to be hosting all these officials from the companies, from government from parliament, from civil society. But above all a good number of them have a following and some of them engage in monologues the whole morning and people are listening in to them. If a guy like that stood up and said “You know, this can’t be accepted, our oil is being stolen” people believe it, they believe our oil is actually being extracted and exported. So that kind of person needs to be as informed about what’s going on as the reporter who specialises in covering oil.
I hope that those people who have been helping in those efforts of knowledge, helping people widen their knowledge about this, can also see the importance of targeting such groups of media producers who are not necessarily your typical journalist. Including bloggers. People like that need to be part of this conversation, not just reporters and editors.
Information and knowledge are like the very oxygen of transparency. I’ve found that some of the NGO community’s attitude to transparency is to demand that the government tells us this—that the government should tell us this, and to some extent the oil companies too, that the oil companies should share this information with us. Yet of course journalists, if they’re working well, can put some information into the public realm and raise questions, just by looking around and finding various sources, even if the government is not revealing all.
But do these processes perhaps conflict? Are the oil journalists and the media in Uganda developing relationships with the government and companies that are constructive enough to increase the flow of information? Or is the government’s response to the clamour from, particularly, NGOs, around oil, to clam up?
There’s been this case of the Ministry of Energy announcing that people need permission from the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry to go down to do any kind of research in the oil bearing areas. Which doesn’t strike me as being very practical because it’s not the kind of thing that they could reasonably enforce.
That’s a bit convoluted, let me put it more simply: is the reporting on oil and what’s being said by the wider NGO community as well, is it of good enough quality to encourage greater accountability from government? Or does it tend to inculcate an attitude in government of “Oh, these people are idiots, they don’t understand anything, so we’re not going to talk to them because they’ll misquote us”?
I think it’s 50:50, another mixed bag. Some degree of smartness comes in handy. We have argued with some of the folks in the NGO community who are working on advocacy, we have trained some of them on media relations. My sense is that they don’t do enough to appreciate good development when it is happening. The Petroleum Exploration and Production Department, compared to others, has in recent years attempted to share information with the public, something that they were not doing at all two years ago. Acknowledge that! You know, before you go on to ask for more.
The Baganda have this saying that before you quarrel about the meat you first get your little share, put it here, then you say “You guys, this is not enough here, I need part of that rib,” because someone is going to come and take up everything, you lose everything.
So I kind of feel the NGOs could do a better job in acknowledging the little that the government has done right before demanding for more. The same actually applies to the media. I am not sure that journalists understand that even as you maintain an adversarial relationship with the government that ultimately your biggest source of information, on the record or off the record, is going to be people who work in these issues. So without them you are always going to be constrained in understanding what’s going on.
So when an official in the PEPD looks at your reporting and thinks “No, you’re just a cynical person who thinks everybody in there is a thug”—yet there are people in there who are trying their best to ensure that Uganda benefits, and some of the little changes that we have seen here and there are because there are people who care about Uganda as much as you people in the media care about this country. And it is because of some of their efforts that some things have come to light. So I think they get frustrated when they see coverage that appears to lump all of them together as either idiots or looters, that kind of thing.
So I think that the smart reporter who is able to tell stories that are fair is almost always able to get more information from some of these people. Even in the companies, by the way. Because there are very many people in the companies who are Ugandans who are not happy with the allowances that their bosses are getting: they’re looking at it and saying “These are ‘recoverable costs’, Ugandans are going to have to pay back this money.” They are willing to share. I mean who is the Human Resources manager of Tullow? It’s not a mzungu, it’s a Ugandan who used to work with Shell. Don’t you think that person could share information—only if he knew that you can be trusted?
So I think it is 50:50. Kabagambe [Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development] used to be quite arrogant. Still is, an arrogant man. But if he can be convinced to come for breakfast to brief journalists in what is going on that tells you that yes, those efforts to nudge the government to share more have paid off somewhat.
The issue is, think about it, what would you do—put yourself in his shoes—what would you do if they force you to come to this media breakfast to share information with media editors and so on, and you come over and then one of the major stories that is written about this thing actually has a screw-up! Wouldn’t that just reinforce your cynicism about the media: “Forget about these bastards and just do our own thing!” and all that.
So the more professionalism we see in the media the more chances are that the more cooperation we shall see from government. There are very few people who are willing to risk their jobs sharing information with people who they think are just excited and just going to run and disregard the consequences.
Well, similarly I would think with the Ugandan Human Resources manager of Tullow. The international companies—I’m certainly not their spokesman—but I would say that the political difficulties they’ve had in negotiating a deal with the government here have, I think, created quite a controlling culture of what’s said to Ugandans and Ugandan media. So I think they are at least as sensitive to coverage and adverse coverage—because it all counts as ‘political risk’, which they take very seriously—they are at least as used to adverse coverage as the government, which is used to having mud slung at it from every direction, by NGOs and media and whatever. And for the Ugandan staff inside the companies, that’s quite a big issue, they’d be very careful I suspect: certainly in talking to a mzungu journalist because they don’t share their secrets with me!
But thank you very much, we’ll stop there.