KAMPALA – Dear #JournalismUG #MediaAfrica, the enormity of the #COVID19 crisis should not stop you from holding our political leaders and other forms of officialdom accountable. The biggest role of the media in such times is to provide citizens with accurate information that can help them make sense of what is going on around them. The media also provide a platform for debate of the (policy and other) options that our governments should take. Above all the media hold power to account.
Don’t listen to those who suggest you should suspend or compromise your accountability function in such trying national times. Of course it takes courage to point out possible mistakes or excesses by leaders who are being praised from all corners. The critical thing is for #journalists and the #media to ask the right questions as they serve the public’s right to know.
Here are some:
- Q.1. From what we know today, what is the required response to #COVID19 supposed to look like?
- Q.2. What does our response ACTUALLY look like? Where are we registering success? Where are we struggling? Where are we failing? How do we plug vulnerabilities? Who is responsible for what? Are they doing their work? Who is sleeping on the job?
- Q.3. Are our leaders doing what they were elected to do e.g. protect us against all enemies?
- Q.4. Are we living up to our responsibilities as citizens?
- Q.5. What is the (economic, social, political) impact of this crisis? How are we dealing with these impacts at individual, family, community, district, national, regional, and global levels?
We should not give political leaders, public officials, or even wananchi a blind pass in the name of safety or peace.
We should continue exercising a healthy degree of skepticism that sees us weigh what we’re told against evidence, expert opinion, as well as common sense.
President Museveni has this evening’s prayer at State House rightly warned us to be careful about those shutting up (whistleblowers). He cited the example of the Chinese doctor who first blew the whistle on #COVID19 in Wuhan, saying he’s now a hero. Dr Li Wenliang, who died of COVID-19 in February, had been reprimanded by authorities for “spreading rumours” and “disrupting social order”. He has been officially exonerated.
At the same time, journalists and the public should avoid unnecessary sensationalism, including sharing of unverified reports that cause undue panic.