RSS Feed (xml)

Powered By

Skin Design:
Free Blogger Skins

Powered by Blogger

Saturday, January 19, 2008

New national agency to supply FMs with news

Mr Ivor Gaber [pictured] is professor emeritus of broadcast journalism at London University's Goldsmiths College. A media consultant and writer, Gaber is the founder of the British Journalism Review. He has been teaching a Radio Journalism Recess Course at Makerere University. In September he will help set up a news network for FM stations. Dennis D. Muhumuza interviewed him:

Who is Ivor Gaber?
I'm a television and radio journalist who has worked in the UK for BBC, ITN, Sky, everybody, for many years. I'm now a consultant working for the Institute of War and Peace Reporting (IWPR). We're working on two projects in Uganda. The first is funded by the Carnegie Foundation where I'm working with the Mass Communication Department at Makerere University. I have just finished running a radio workshop for undergraduates and postgraduates and I'm continuing to work in the department on changing and developing the curriculum and producing a pamphlet about media law and regulation for Ugandan journalists. The other project is an ambitious one. It's about starting a news agency for FM radio stations covering the whole country. We are setting up headquarters here in Kampala and we are training 200 freelance journalists to supply this agency with top quality news from Uganda so that in the run up to the elections [in March 2006], the people of Uganda have the most independent information to enable them make a democratic decision.

This Radio Journalism Recess Course, how did it come about and how did you get involved?
The origins of the programme was [within] IWPR, which is a London-based NGO that has mainly worked in the Balkans in Europe, in the former Soviet Union, Afghanistan, Iraq and recently decided it wanted to do some projects in Africa. It set up an office in Johannesburg. They were very keen and saw Makerere as one of the most important places for journalism education in Africa. So they approached the Carnegie Foundation in America and developed this project. They were looking for someone to run it. I had done some projects for the BBC World Service Trust Fund and the guy who would run that project moved to IWPR and said, 'Oh, I think I know the right person to do this!' That's how I ended up here.

So you're here to stay?
No, no. I've got a family in England, I'm going back (left last weekend) and then I'm coming back late in September. I'm gonna stay for four months working on this bigger project, seeing that it gets up and going and maybe there will be another project. I'm a freelancer. I go from project to project.

To take you slightly back, enlighten us more about IWPR.
IWPR was founded, I think, in mid 1994 when there was a major war raging in Bosnia. Huge massacres were taking place in some quite remote parts and there was a big problem of getting the news out – nobody really knew what was going on. So they decided to set up their own NGO with their own reporting operation. They got freelancers – people like you – to report and they sent the news to London. They established themselves in the Balkans and they, as the name suggests, initially concentrated media in situations of war and post-conflict, and set up projects in countries we've already talked about and now Africa. Uganda is not quite post-conflict although there are conflicts here. It is a good place with a lot of potential but there are also some uncertainties.

Why is this ambitious project targeting the radio industry and not television?
It's just that in Uganda radio is by far the most important medium.

Any word for reporters covering war-torn areas?
First, no story is worth getting killed for. Some journalists lose a sense of proportion. I've done it myself. I repeat, no story is worth getting killed for. Secondly, to remember that in war there are no neutral observers; the rebels have one view, and the army another. Each tries to use the journalists to help them fight the war. It's very important that you must source stories. If you say, 20 rebels were killed, you have to add: 'according to the army', unless you as a reporter saw the 20 bodies and you know they are rebels. And thirdly, you must try to remember that what you say can be terribly important, can have a profound effect, so you must weigh your words very carefully. Make sure you do not say anything that incites further acts of violence.

What do you say to Ugandan journalists who want to get rich quick in a low-paying profession?
I think it's a general problem in the developing world that journalists are poorly paid and therefore the temptation to take money is very high. When you turn up for a press conference and you are given a facilitation fee, is that a bribe? Well, I'm afraid it is. On the other hand, if the organisation being covered drives you to the press conference, I think that's just about okay. My advice is this: you know in yourself if it's a bribe and if you have allowed it to influence what you will write. You have to make that judgement. Do you go to a press conference and accept a drink or an envelop with money? You probably do. So it's difficult but it's your own judgement.

Rate our broadcast industry
I have tuned in to Radio Uganda and watched Uganda Television and I think the state sector is very weak. UTV is not very interesting to watch and it's not independent. I haven't had a chance to watch WBS TV [because] I can't get [the signal] in my hotel room and therefore I can't comment. But private radio is very vibrant, lively – it's big. I've seen a range of stations – some very big commercial operations producing highly westernised sounds, other stations broadcasting out of a room in a church, but, ah, they do a decent job. My only criticism is that there is not enough content – it's just music, music, music! There's not enough debate, there's not enough investigation, there's not enough current affairs.

Tell us about the best assignment you've done for radio
Most of my works have been in television. I was mainly doing political news in radio. I made a documentary for BBC early this year or late last year about a woman who is now quite old. During the Second World War, she worked in London as a telephone censor. She was censoring cues coming in and out of the UK. She was particularly interesting because her job was censoring Winston Churchill's phone calls, so she listened to Winston Churchill speaking to President Franklin D. Roosevelt and if she felt Churchill was gonna say something that would endanger national security, she would cut in and say: 'I'm sorry, Churchill, you cannot say that!' It was a very interesting piece of history. I'm quite proud of that programme.

Published in Sunday Monitor, July 31, 2005