It started as a weekly, then a bi-weekly, before gaining the footing of a daily newspaper.
The first edition of the New Vision hit the streets on Wednesday, March 19, 1986. It was priced at sh300.
The Government to curb inflation, was the flagship headline, pointing to one of the major problems at the time.
Thirty-three years later, many things have changed. But do people recall the past? According to Vision Group’s editor-in-chief Barbra Kaija, the reprint of the first edition of New Vision has been mooted as reminder to the current generation of the past.
“We were coming from an era of a destroyed media. One gift that the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government gave to Uganda is a free media. We have been able to play our role. We have not been shy to shine light on the achievements and also highlight wrongdoings.
Therefore, the reprint is a reminder of where we have come from and we shall continue to highlight the good and expose the bad,” she said. The 1986 pioneer edition will be reprinted on Tuesday, March 19.
How the paper started
In his book titled, What Makes Africans Laugh? Reflections of an Entrepreneur in Humour, Media and Culture, James Tumusiime, the New Vision founding chief executive officer (CEO) and editor-in-chief, said when cabinet mooted the idea of starting a government newspaper, the then information minister, Abu Mayanja, gave him March 18 for the paper to hit the streets.
“I spent the whole night in the newsroom with my staff, but we still failed to beat the early morning deadline, much to the chagrin of Mayanja, who had hyped the coming out of the maiden issue,” he said.
Tumusiime writes: “The Russian second-hand machines worked very slowly, breaking down quite often and requiring a standby technician. We gradually got used to our work, established a rhythm and started to roll.” The New Vision started as a weekly for the first two months, and later became a bi-weekly, before gaining the footing of a daily newspaper.
“I was appointed to act as editor-in-chief and CEO and was required to put out a newspaper in two days. I hit the ground running. I had to formalise the appointments of other members of the team: Perez Owori as chief sub-editor, Sam Serwanga as news editor, Ikebes Omoding as sub-editor and features editor, Godwin Rwankwenge as head of typsetting, Philip Kwesiga as head of the passing section and John Asipa as the photographer,” Tumusiime noted in his book.
He also noted: “Our biggest challenge, however, was the lack of money to run the newspaper. Although the decision to start New Vision had been reached by Cabinet, we had to survive on our own without any line of funding. We did not have a budgetary allocation for many months.” During its infancy, Tumusiime said there was unfounded criticism that as a government paper, New Vision was covering up for the wrongs of people in government. But this was unfair criticism. However, five years after the first edition, this criticism had waned.
“Over time, we establish The New Vision as a vibrant and balanced paper of record,” he said. In an interview with UBC television in 1991, Serwanga, said constructive press had started to gain acceptance within government and the public.
The magic for it, former CEO William Pike said, was for New Vision to fight for what is right and defend the public good. The message to government, Pike told UBC in an interview, was simple: “You have to practice what you preach.” In his book, Tumusiime noted that over the years, New Vision has become a “formidable force in the national media industry”, with immense influence on the social and political landscape of the country.
“The New Vision had become a viable and profitable business venture. We revived interest in our key local languages and created employment for many Ugandans, turning journalists into respectable professionals,” he said. Kaija said New Vision has over time been able to play a crucial role in society.
She, however, calls for more open space for the media and for the media to exercise professionalism by balancing the stories. Kaija also noted that the increasing interference of media freedom by security agencies destroys development, yet the media contributes a lot to the development of the country. “We call upon Ugandans to see the value of the media,” she said.