Co-regulation of the media is the way to go- Prof. Chibita

BY BENEZERI WANJALA

Prof. Monica Chibita, the dean of the faculty of journalism, media and communication at Uganda Christian University, on Friday, January 17, delivered her professorial inaugural lecture. The university council appointed Chibita to professorship last year. 

It was the first-ever professorial lecture at Uganda Christian University. The event, which took place at Nkoyooyo Hall, was attended by members of academia, the media fraternity, clergy, judges, students among others.

An inaugural lecture provides newly appointed professors with the opportunity to inform colleagues, the academic community and the public of their work to date, including current research and future plans.

“The inaugural lecture is a joyous occasion, which allows a university to ‘launch’ its new professor,” Chibita said.

The lecture was titled “Between Freedom and Regulation: Reflections on the Communication Landscape in Uganda.” It was a summation of research that she has done over the last five years, which culminated in her professorship.

In her opening remarks, she revealed that she is sure that education is her calling.

“As a young person, sometimes you are not very clear what you want to be when you grow up. I dreamt, first, of being a nurse; then my dad rebuked me and said ‘Why not aim at being a medical doctor?’ My interest shifted and I wanted to be a lawyer because it was highly prestigious. Then I dreamt of being an altar girl because I had watched my uncle, now Monsignor Thomas Kisembo, say Mass at our house every evening. However, I am now convinced that I ended up right where my calling was – in education,” Chibita said.

She shared reflections on a wide range of issues, including the context of communication.

“Not only is it now easier for journalists to file local news from anywhere to any newspaper, radio station or TV station across the country, but ordinary people are able to participate in programmes and contribute content with the aid of the phone and the internet,” Chibita said.

“Traditional media houses typically have a thread of conversation running on social media for any major story. This builds cohesion among audiences. It further enables ordinary people to participate, with minimum censorship, in debate on issues that concern them,” she added.

Chibita also reflected on the history of media regulation and ownership in Uganda.

“Karugire, Isooba and other media historians report that in the early years of Uganda’s media, entrepreneurs were allowed to set up newspapers without much interference. As the colonial government observed a growing political consciousness, fueled mainly by the indigenous language press and exposure to different experiences through the Second World War, it started clamping down on ‘troublesome’ media houses,” she said.

“By independence there was one state broadcaster owned and controlled by the colonial government, and three newspapers. Post-independence, the print media came increasingly under state control while government cemented its influence. This was easy to justify in the interest of unity, national integration, and development,” she added.

She further highlighted the change in media consumption habits.

“If you check properly, your media consumption habits have changed as well. So have mine. If I know I can read about the cabinet reshuffle on my phone before I go to bed, why wait for the paper tomorrow? I may eventually read the paper, but it will be for analysis, profiles etc. Not just for the facts, because I got them before I went to bed last night,” she said.

“Today’s audiences know the capacity of the “new” media, so they expect more. They are demanding, they are impatient, they are unforgiving, and they are bold. Most importantly they are no longer just consumers of content packaged by a professional in a media organization, they are producers or co-producers of content themselves in form or blogs, posts, tweets, and volunteer media content, sometimes referred to as citizen journalism,” she added.

She shared her research findings on the convergence of separate technologies and multimedia, digitisation, media freedom and freedom of expression, popular media and popular culture, as well as the justifications for the regulation of the media, amongst other topics.

She said that in order for the media to play their roles optimally, they must be structurally diverse.

“Structural diversity relates, for instance to who Lowns the media, who controls them, how are they distributed, who they reach with what technical quality etc. It is also important that the media are regulated,” she said. 

“Current regulation debates rotate around  not just how the media are regulated, but who regulates the media: the state, the media industry which includes media owners, journalist associations, the community, all media ‘prod-users’ (bloggers, tweeters), or a combination?”

Her conclusion was that for a free press in a vibrant democracy, co-regulation is the way forward.

“In East Africa, Kenya is experimenting with a model called co-regulation. The Media Council here has started discussing this, and the Uganda Communications Commission a year or so ago had some dialogue with a number of industry players about how to regulate in the new environment. Perhaps it is time to begin breaking down the walls between the regulator and the regulated,” she said.

The university vice-chancellor, Dr John Senyonyi, commended Chibita for her contribution to UCU. 

“Shortly after she joined UCU, Professor Chibita sent five staff for PhDs to build up her department. As a result, the faculty of journalism, media and communication, which was a department under the faculty of education, was hatched,” he said.

“Furthermore, she matched that departmental growth with personal academic growth. Thus becoming the second home grown professor at Uganda Christian University, and that will be our history in years to come. Congratulations Professor Chibita on the well deserved promotion,” he added.

After the lecture, Senyonyi handed her a plaque of academic excellence. Guests were then treated to a meal at the reception in Agape Square. 

The lecture was organized by the School of Graduate Studies and the office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor in charge of Academic Affairs.