By Els de Temmerman
Dear readers, today I have officially taken up my assignment as Editor-in-Chief of this newspaper. Many things have been said and written about the changes that took place at New Vision, mainly by our rival newspapers. A lot of mud has been thrown. But as a seasoned politician in this country, Norbert Mao, taught me: â€œWhen they throw mud at you, just wait for it to dry and wipe it off.â€
I feel both grateful and honoured for the Members of the Board to entrust me with this huge task. It was not obvious to appoint a foreigner and a woman in such a responsible position. I am determined not to disappoint them. I will be more than willing to share with my Ugandan colleagues my long time experience as a journalist and the network of contacts I established all over Africa. Building capacity and building bridges will be my lead motives. Let it be my modest contribution to a country that I love and that I count among the most hospitable and friendly in the world.
I have been called uncompromising. At first, I did not think the description fitted me. I find myself accessible, tolerant and open to views from all sides. But at second thought, I realised I am uncompromising, yes, when it comes to corruption. As I told the New Vision reporters during my introduction: â€œA journalist who accepts a bribe ceases to be a journalist.â€ I will not accept brown envelopes. And the problem of corruption will continue to be high on the agenda of this newspaper.
I am also uncompromising when it comes to quality. As a senior colleague in my Belgian newspaper taught me: â€œBefore you hand in an article, check it sentence by sentence, asking yourself three questions: Is it accurate? Is it clear? Is it relevant?â€ The best journalists, I believe, are those who are able to â€˜translateâ€™ complicated issues into a simple language, which a peasant woman can understand, without compromising on the truth. Readers are never to blame for not understanding an article. Reporters are to blame for failing to make their point in a clear and simple way.
Concerns have also been raised about the continued independence of this newspaper. I must say that this talk of being a â€œpro-governmentâ€ or a â€œpro-oppositionâ€ newspaper somehow confuses me. When you bring accurate information, based on in-depth investigations, and you allow all parties to air their views, you are neither pro-government nor pro-opposition. You are just professional.
Let me clarify this with an example. Recently, defense minister Kiyonga told the Karimojong leaders in Kotido that the army had launched an investigation into alleged abuses by the UPDF. The investigation, he said, found out that some allegations were true, some were exaggerated and some were not true. If we were a pro-opposition newspaper, we would have used as headline: â€œAllegations trueâ€. If we were a pro-government newspaper, we would have titled: â€œAllegations not trueâ€. But we are a professional newspaper and we wrote: â€œKiyonga: No cover-up on Karamojaâ€.
Nevertheless, my Belgian colleagues, when interviewing me about my possible appointment, repeatedly asked me: â€œWill you be able to guard your independence?â€ My answer was two-fold. Firstly, I told them, I was not terribly worried about press freedom in Uganda. Indeed, I said I would not even consider such an offer in most other countries in Africa. Secondly, I confessed that, to be on the safe side, I did request for sufficient guarantees of my editorial independence. Only the moment I received these guarantees in writing, did I accept the job.
Now that I embark on this three year journey with you, I want to make a contract with the public. A newspaper is not a one way channel of communication. It is a dialogue with the readers. Reactions, opinions, tips and comments from people of all walks of life will be highly welcomed and appreciated. Our job as journalists is to process information but the raw materials have to come from all of you.
I also want to make a contract with other news media in Uganda, I hate to call them competitors. Let us agree on basic standards and rules of engagement. Let us not exploit internal changes in an attempt to destroy each other. And let us form one front when it comes to press freedom. Indeed, it bodes ill for the public role of the Fourth Estate when journalists start attacking each other.
Lastly, I want to thank my predecessors, William Pike and David Sseppuuya, for the immense efforts they have put in to turn New Vision into a profitable and successful enterprise. Producing a newspaper in a country where communication and power supply are still wanting, can be a nightmare. For the last 20 years, they have not only managed to bring a paper on the street every day, they have also succeeded in making New Vision the leading newspaper in Uganda. We promise to honour their legacy by maintaining and increasing our leadership position in the Ugandan media.