The impending departure of the New Visionâ€™s founding editor-in-chief and managing director, Mr William Pike, has prompted many commentators, including my good friend Dr. Muniini Mulera, a columnist with the Monitor to predict the demise of the paper that Pike moulded from infancy to a profitable b
The main concern centres on the fear that the government is keen to turn the paper into a mouthpiece for the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, shutting down all critical views, especially from the opposition. It would be a step back into the dark old days of Soviet-style Pravda, Dr. Mulera argues.
Now, there is no debating the fact that Pike brought a singular vision, indefatigable energy and devotion to the project that became the New Vision. That the paper is one of the few state-owned print media turning a profit worldwide is a testimony to his skillful management of news reporting and in maintaining editorial independence.
It is also true that as an expatriate, Pike enjoyed far more latitude in creating and moulding the paper to its current vibrant status. That vantage point as a foreign national â€” looking in from the outside â€” allowed him to deal directly with issues such as corruption and inefficiency that tend to bedevil many government-funded projects in Africa generally and in Uganda specifically. His integrity allowed no room for under-the-table deals and shenanigans considered standard practice by some individuals.
However, there are many factors that favour the continued strength of New Vision long after the echoes of Pikeâ€™s footsteps have died in the corridors of the paper.
Foremost, thanks to his vision and talents, Pike created a strong team of workers who should continue to run like a well-oiled machine in his absence. In fact those who have visited the New Vision facilities will attest to the collective and consultative decision-making model that enables all voices to be heard at the editorial meetings.
The lead story that carries the day is as likely to originate from the junior personnel as from the most senior editor. This approach to newspaper making ensures the flow of fresh ideas to keep the paper crisp and up-to-date.
Secondly, it should be said that for all his hard work, Pikeâ€™s effort would have come to naught if it were not for a discerning readership smart enough to know the difference between â€œgooey newsâ€ or and the real deal.
What that means is that those same readers will be watching the paper like hawks and, at the slightest smell of a stale offering, move on elsewhere in droves.
The point here is that the newspaper buying public is a fairly literate lot that will not suffer fools if the product is below standards. For the New Vision, the canary in the coalmine will be the readers themselves, providing a clear feedback whether the things are falling apart or getting better. Thirdly, Pikeâ€™s departure need not come down to what Mulera refers to as â€˜toe the Museveni line or look elsewhere for jobsâ€™.
Examples from around the world show that media organisations are generally biased toward specific subject or issue yet remain viable. Publicly- funded institutions like the BBC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, National Public Radio (NPR) and PBS â€” have all been accused of bias in favour of the left rather than the conservative right. On the other side, private media â€” think CNN and Fox News â€” tend to trumpet the conservative viewpoints.
Who can deny that CNN has been one of President George Bushâ€™s most vocal cheerleaders in the Iraq war, refusing to be critical even when the going was bad on the ground for American troops and for Iraqi civilians?
In Canada, heavy-weight media house CanWest Global Communication which owns a slew of newspapers, radio and television across the country is on record for overtly dictating editorials to be adopted by all.
The late CanWest owner Izzy Asper, and his son Leonard Asper the current CEO refused to apologise, for example, for being pro-Liberal Party of Canada and staunch supporters of Israel. Yet, even in these cases, there is room for constructive criticisms and opposing views â€” CanWest, for example, insisted that all views opposed to that of the owners be signed by the writers in the OpEd pages.
The point is not whether New Vision becomes the NRM propaganda mouth-piece, but rather whether it allows for alternative voices to come through, in essence, balancing the biases it espouses.
There is no reason why New Vision should not continue to balance its editorial views by inviting constructive criticisms and opposing views on its pages. Yes, Pikeâ€™s departure will leave a gaping hole not only within the New Vision, but in the publishing industry in East Africa.
That said, he also leaves behind a strong team capable of moving the paper forward, improving on it, and allowing it to remain one of Ugandaâ€™s most successful post-independence newspapers.
The New Vision can survive Pikeâ€™s exit