Investigative journalism

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‘Giving a voice to the voiceless’ – Inspiring women into investigative journalism

By Patty Huston-Holm with Israel Kisakye, Vanessa Kyalimpa and Yasiri J. Kasango
In mid-May 2021, Cecilia Okoth broke a story about how health care workers were charging money for the government’s free vaccination against Covid-19.  The next month, she wrote about hospital patient expenses, treatment, and lax safety regulations regarding coronavirus.

UCU Vice Chancellor Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi exchanges signed copies of the Memorandum of Understanding with AIIJ Executive Director Solomon Serwanjja.
UCU Vice Chancellor Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi exchanges signed copies of the Memorandum of Understanding with AIIJ Executive Director Solomon Serwanjja.

Expose’ stories like these in the height of the pandemic are nothing new to this New Vision investigative reporter. In 2018, she uncovered a scam involving cancer patients and wrote about a possible solution to the stigma of HIV-AIDS in men. In 2019, she reported about “brokers” who lure public hospital patients to private facilities and how Karimojong girls were trafficked, with some ending up with the Al-Shabaab terrorist group.

These are only a few of the investigative journalism pieces authored by Okoth, a 2010 graduate of Uganda Christian University (UCU) and a speaker for a March 2022 event focused on engaging more women in deep, fact-finding news stories. The occasion was co-sponsored by the UCU School of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMC) and  the Kampala-based African Institute of Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) with the nonprofit, Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), in Nkoyoyo Hall of the UCU Mukono campus.

The School of JMC and AIIJ  have a new Memorandum of Understanding that seeks collaboration in research and training of investigative journalists in the country.

Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, Anna Reisman, Solomon Serwanjja and Monica Chibita cut cake to mark International Women’s Day, aligned with the investigative journalism event at UCU in March.
Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, Anna Reisman, Solomon Serwanjja and Monica Chibita cut cake to mark International Women’s Day, aligned with the investigative journalism event at UCU in March.

“We are doing a lot of research in areas for journalism within Uganda and we think that UCU offers us that margin, but also think that UCU would love a space where they take their students for internships and could benefit from the guest lectures that we’ll have,” said Raymond Mujuni, of AIIJ and an editor and talk-show host at the Nation Media Group in Uganda.

Before an audience of 100, Okoth served on panel of journalists and media scholars who discussed press issues under the theme “Women and Investigative Journalism: An untapped opportunity.” Other panelists were Dr Patricia Litho, a communications specialist and trainer; Dr. Annette Kezaabu, the Head of Postgraduate Studies at the UCU School of JMC; and Anna Reismann, the country representative KAS Uganda and South Sudan.  Mujuni moderated the discussion.

“In our early time of investigative journalism, we didn’t have such training to equip the young female journalists,” Okoth said at the event. Later, she shared how, as her career seemed to be stagnant, she stumbled on a deeper story she saw at a routine press conference.

“When I arrived, I immediately noticed an anomaly,” she recalled of the press event. “Many patients were lying on the verandas at the institute. I later learned that patients had to bribe medics to access the radiotherapy machine which was known to be free of charge. That was the story I wrote after a three-month investigation. My career has never been the same.”

In an interview after the March 2022 event, Okoth shared her thoughts about challenges and opportunities, especially for women. Investigative journalism is tough enough, but tougher for women as the difficult assignments often go to men.

“The onus is on a woman to fight and prove that you can equally accomplish a ‘man’s’ task,” she said. “Investigative journalism involves unearthing well-tucked secrets by the powers that be or highlighting the injustices and abuses of power. It is giving a voice to the voiceless. However, in trying to accomplish this, you will rub some people the wrong way or even get frustrated along the way, or face threats.”

Investigative pieces require time, patience and stamina for the reporter, and a budget for a newsroom – all four of which can compromise the quality of the work, according to Okoth. The content of the investigations can be “very disturbing” psychologically with risks from perpetrators reporters are researching to expose wrongful deeds.

“As journalists, we are told that no story is worth your life,” she said. “So, you have to know when to retract when an assignment gets dangerous.”

At the same time, deeper fact-finding stories provide opportunities not only to clear up corruption but also to gain recognition as reporters. Okoth has received accolades, such as the August 2018 editorial innovations award, 2019 runner up in the Uganda National Journalism Awards explanatory reporting category, and 2020 Nominee for the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) Knight International Journalism Awards. She also has had several training and mentorship opportunities globally.

“As a field journalist, I have seized the opportunity to transform the lives of people I have been assigned to report about,” Okoth said. “The stories I have covered have helped start uncomfortable conversations that have created awareness or led to policy change.”

Another panelist, Dr. Kezaabu, implored lecturers to mentor their students on life skills, adding that “the skills taught in class can be compromised if we don’t teach or mentor our students on how to focus on their life and conduct themselves.”

“Go for it if it’s your passion, if it’s your conviction, go for it,” added panelist, Dr. Litho, encouraging upcoming female journalists to break the bias. She added that ladies should not be relegated to soft stories like beauty contests.

“As journalists, we are often told, you are as good as your last story so that technically means your best story is one that you have not yet done,” Okoth, mother of a 16-month-old son, said. “This pushes me to work harder…Plus, being a mother shouldn’t deprive someone of career goals. You can definitely achieve both.”

In addition to hearing speakers, attendees watched a documentary film known as a Thousand Cuts about the life of Maria Ressa, a female investigative journalist who put her life at stake to hold the Philippine President accountable for killing innocent people under the disguise of drug abuse.

The March activities were attended by UCU Vice Chancellor, Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushenygezi;  Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academics, Assoc. Prof. John Kitayimbwa; Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Finance and Administration), David Mugawe; Dean for the School JMC, Prof. Monica Chibita; head of the School of JMC undergraduate studies, John Semakula; and AIIJ executive director Solomon Serwanjja.

UCU signs partnership agreement with AIIJ

By Jimmy Siyasa

Uganda Christian University (UCU) and the Africa Institute of Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) have signed a Memorandum of Understanding. The agreement marks the beginning of a partnership between the UCU and School of Journalism, Media and Communication (SJMC) and AIIJ on various academic and media industry-related areas.

Solomon Sserwanja, the Executive Director at AIIJ, said the partnership was a long-awaited opportunity to partner on “advancing investigative journalism in areas of training, capacity building, resource and resource mobilization,” with UCU and, therefore, was highly welcomed.

On her part, Prof. Monica Chibita, the Dean of SJMC said the partnership will enable collaboration with AIIJ in areas such as “internship, research, visiting lectureship, teaching short courses and partnerships for securing scholarships for investigative journalism at MA and Ph.D. levels at UCU.”

Assoc. Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, the team from AIIJ led by Solomon Sserwanja, Prof. Monica Chibita and other guests going for a photoshoot after signing the agreement. Photo: Courtesy of AIIJ.

During the ceremony, graced by the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, acclaimed the partnership saying it would enrich the training of students at SJMC to embrace investigative journalism because some media stories, indeed, “require more research and digging in and that is why investigative journalism is important”.

The partnership was signed on eve of the International Women’s Day, annually celebrated on March 08. Together UCU and AIIJ organized a dialogue hosted by the former, to discuss the role of women and their inclusion in the discipline of investigative journalism.

The panel: Dr. Anette Kezaabu- Head of Post Graduate Studies, SJMC (Far right), Anna Reisman- Country Representative, KAS Uganda and South Sudan (Far left), Cecilia Okoth- Multimedia investigative journalist at New Vision (3rd Right) and Dr. Patricia Litho- Communication Specialist (2nd Left).

During the panel discussion comprised of five, prominent women in the media industry and academia in Uganda, the moderator, Raymond Mujuni, Deputy Executive Director at AIIJ, noted that only a few women in the newsroom were practicing investigative journalism.

“There are only 24% females in the newsroom. If you look at the ACME awards which award exceptional journalism, only 7% of awards have been won by female journalists. When I walk around the newsroom, I see fewer women,” Raymond said.

With the intent to encourage female journalists to embrace investigative journalism, a documentary film entitled A thousand cuts. The film captures the journalistic work of Maria Rossa, a Nobel-Prize winner and investigative journalist, whose remarkable investigative journalism works revealed ongoing corruption and abuse of power in the Philippines, in the regime of President Rodrigo Duterte, who was infamous for Press repression.

In light of the film, Dr. Annette Kezaabu, Head of Postgraduate studies at SJMC and also one of the panelists, urged young women to work hard like Maria Rossa and to not expect the ‘easy way up’. She cautioned them against “the love of money” that often causes one to compromise on moral values, further encouraging them to endure the humble, and due process in the newsroom that rising to the top of the media industry entails.

This is one of many, major partnerships UCU has consecutively signed with various notable institutions this year, 2022.

UCU, AIIJ to host special international women’s day celebrations

By John Semakula

The Uganda Christian University School of Journalism, Media and Communication and the African Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ) will host special celebrations to mark this year’s International Women’s Day. This will be in form of a dialogue made of a women’s panel. 

The celebrations targeting female journalists in Uganda will take place on Monday, March 7, at Uganda Christian University’s (UCU) main campus in Mukono on the theme “Women and Investigative Journalism: An Untapped Opportunity.”  It will be graced by top journalists, academics and media managers, including Raymond Mujuni, an investigative journalist and the Deputy, Director at AIIJ, who will host the panel discussion. International Women’s Day is celebrated on March 8.

During the event at UCU, AIIJ will show a special film titled, “A Thousand Cuts” that chronicles President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on the Press in the Philippines and the spread of disinformation, plus the life of the 2021 Nobel Peace Prize winner, investigative journalist, Maria Ressa, and how she goes against all odds to hold the powerful in the country accountable. 

Later, a panel of senior female journalists and communication scholars in Uganda will discuss issues related to investigative journalism and the role of women in the field. These include; Dr. Anette Kezaabu- Head of Post Graduate Studies, School of Journalism, Media and Communication, Anna Reisman- Country Representative, KAS Uganda and South Sudan, Cecilia Okoth- Multimedia investigative journalist at New Vision, Dr. Patricia Litho- Communication Specialist and Trainer,  and Gillian Nantume- Journalist at Daily Monitor.

The event marks the beginning of a long-term partnership between the School and AIIJ in training investigative journalists. The two institutions are also expected to use the event to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) sealing the partnership.

Investigative journalism plays a key role in enhancing accountability and good governance, which are pre-requisites for democracy and development. While AIIJ is renowned for its practical skills and award-winning experience in investigative journalism, UCU, being a training institution, brings to the table the conceptual aspects, research, and training skills. We, therefore, see the potential for collaboration in areas such as internship, research, visiting lectureship, teaching short courses and partnerships in securing scholarships for investigative journalism at MA and Ph.D. level at UCU.

Prof. Monica Chibita, the Dean of the School.

On his behalf, the executive director of AIIJ, Solomon Serwanjja said the celebrations at UCU are intended to commend the job and efforts by the school to advance investigative journalism in Uganda. “We also intend to use the event to encourage and interest female journalists to pursue this form of journalism. We believe that the film which we are going to show is a classic example of how far women investigative journalists can be part of public interest mission and break systematic barriers to women in investigative journalism,” Serwanjja said. “We believe that together we can pass investigative journalism mindset, skillset, and toolset to the next generation of female investigative journalists.”

UCU students of journalism showcase a production, during the launch of the FJMC, which has since been elevated into a school in 2019. Courtesy.

Until the start of this year, the UCU School of Journalism operated as a Faculty with two departments, Strategic Communication; and Journalism and Media Studies. But late last year, the University Council approved the Faculty’s elevation to a school’s status, erasing the old departments and introducing two new ones: Postgraduate and Undergraduate Studies. 

With an enrollment of over 400 students before Covid-19 struck in 2020, the school is growing rapidly, with prospects of starting a Ph.D. programme within the next one year. This will be one of the few in the East African region. 

In 2021, UCU in partnership with NLA University College, University of Kwazulu Natal, and University of Rwanda, won the highly competitive NORHED II grant worth sh7.9b to start the Ph.D. at the School.