Editor's note: As we leave Uganda tomorrow, I'd like to reflect on the last ten months. Today, we'll talk business. Next week, in part two, I'll share some personal reflections about our wonderful Ugandan friends and colleagues.
KAMPALA, UGANDA — As my time in Uganda winds down, the obvious question about my 10 months here is whether my presence made any difference for this wonderful, maddening country and its resourceful, friendly, poverty-stricken residents. (Picture-At Kampala Peace Journalism Summit)
Did I waste my time and American tax dollars (my $270,000 peace journalism project was supported by the U.S. State Department and USAID)? Am I just another arrogant Westerner preaching mzungu (white person) values?
In an attempt to justify our efforts, we produced a project assessment report. I know—self assessments are hardly reliable, but that’s all we could afford. I still hope our report isn’t worthless.
We were extremely busy. My assistant Gloria Laker (pictured, at the Kampala Peace Journ Summit) and I lead 30 seminars for radio journalists and managers. 447 radio professionals attended our seminars, which taught the pros how to tell stories without inflammatory language in ways that can deflate conflicts before they become violent. These peace journalism seminars were held all over Uganda. We traveled 9,222 miles (I kept track) on often pothole-decorated roads. We also convened four follow-up meetings with former seminar attendees to give them advanced training and also to collect assessment data.
The goal of our project was to prevent media induced or exacerbated violence before and during the Ugandan presidential election, which was held Feb. 18. Did our project meet this goal?
First, there was no media induced or exacerbated election violence in 2010-2011. (There was one arrest of a radio DJ in Masaka for incitement, although Uganda Human Rights Watch said that incitement was used only as an excuse for his arrest.) We also know that there were no incidents of media incited violence because none of the hundreds of journalists who we’re regularly in contact with reported any such incidents. The strongest evidence of a dearth of media induced or exacerbated violence can be seen in results from a survey we conducted of 40 radio journalists/presenters and 20 radio managers during the first two weeks of March. Among other things, those surveyed were asked if anything (news, talk program, panelists, telephone callers) broadcast by their radio station encouraged or incited violence. All 60 responded no, that they did not incite violence. Then they were asked if anything (news, talk program, panelists, telephone callers) broadcast by any other radio station in their area/district encouraged or incited violence.
Two responded yes, and cited the Masaka incident. The other 58 responded no.
The absence of media induced violence is wonderful, and perhaps even a bit surprising given the ugly history in the region of radio stations stirring up violent mobs (Kenya 2007-08; Rwanda 1994; Uganda 2009).
So, can our peace journalism project take credit for this lack of media induced violence?
The journalists who attended our follow up meetings weren’t hesitant about crediting our project with preventing violence. The nearly unanimous opinion of the journalists was that the peace journalism trainings led to more responsible and balanced reporting that more carefully avoided inflammatory language or irresponsible, sensationalistic framing of stories. Our survey results confirmed what the journalists told us. Respondents were asked to rate the effectiveness of the peace/electoral journalism trainings for radio journalists, announcers, and managers (on a 1-5 scale) in preventing broadcasts that might encourage or incite violence. Five is very effective, and one not at all effective.
The average for this question was 4.38, somewhere between effective and very effective. Those surveyed were also asked to rate the effectiveness of the peace/electoral journalism trainings in improving the professionalism of election coverage. The average was 4.33.
So, take it from us, we did a great job! Yes, I know how this sounds, but it’s the best and only data we have, so take it for what it’s worth. In my gut, I know the project made a real difference for most of our trainees and for Uganda. (Picture--Gloria and I in traditional Karamajong warrior's outfits, at the Kampala PJ Summit).
If we did succeed, it’s because of the dedication of Project Assistant Gloria Laker and the Ugandan journalists who committed themselves to improving their professionalism and making their communities a better place.