Keynote address by Dr. Benson Obua Ogwal at 2nd Media Conference

Keynote Speaker, Hon. Dr. Benson Obua Ogwal giving his keynote address on Wednesday.


“It is with great pleasure that I present this keynote address to this great audience today at the 2nd Annual Media Conference at the All Saints University, Lango.

I would like to thank the Convener and the organizing Committee who chose me for this task. I count it a great honor.

I did not attend the inaugural Media Conference which I am made to understand took place in 2016, and was very successful. Neither have I been privy to the proceedings of that first conference or its resolutions. But I am aware that the inaugural conference generated so much interest that it created the thirst to hold it annually.

However, I notice that three years has elapsed between the first and the second Media Conference for reasons that the organizers have outlined. It is my conviction that this conference is so important that no effort should be spared to ensure that it can actually become truly annual.

For that to happen, the Chief Convener and his committee need to be supported by all stakeholders; government, NGOs, civil society, business community including media moguls, and individuals. I will be happy if by the end of today’s conference there are firm undertakings and commitments in that direction.

My role this morning is simple and arduous at the same time. Simple in that I have to set the tone for the conference by giving an overview on the theme in generality, but arduous because I have to do justice to a very wide theme in just 30 minutes.

I will start by making a disclaimer that I am not a media specialist or practitioner in the strictest sense, neither am I a media owner/entrepreneur.

But as a student and youth leader at the local, national and international levels, and as a politician and activist, I have interacted with the media for over 25 years locally, nationally and internationally. I have also done a lot of study of the Media on my own and have reasonable knowledge of how it works and its roles which has given me the right to speak about it here.

There is no gainsaying that the media plays a very constructive role in today’s society and influences all facets of life, both positively and negatively like the proverbial double-edged sword.

Harnessed and used properly by all stakeholders, the media can cause cultural and mindset change which can result in national unity, national transformation, prosperity and development. Conversely, if abused and misused, the media can cause confusion, chaos, wars, ethnic cleansing, genocide, and destruction.

It can also promote dangerous alien cultures and entrench destructive concepts that can destroy a whole nation.

At this point, even if everyone here has an idea of what Media is, a working definition is in order:

Narrow Definition
The Media, in its simplest contemporary understanding can be defined as the main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the Internet) regarded collectively.

There have also been different forms of media for communication at different stages of human history.

Wider Definition

Media, in a wider context, is the form (or medium) through which knowledge is passed on. We shall use the two definitions concurrently as we examine the roles which the Media play in society to foster development and prosperity.

The term Media is derived from Medium, which means carrier. Media denotes a link specifically designed to reach large viewers or readers. The term was first used with the advent of newspapers and magazines.

However, with the passage of time, the term broadened by the inventions of radio, TV, cinemas and Internet. In the world of today, Media has become almost as necessary as food and clothing. It is true that Media is playing an outstanding role in strengthening the society.

Its responsibility is to inform, educate and entertain the people. It helps to know current situation around the world. The media has a strong social and cultural impact upon society.

Because of its inherent ability to reach a large number of public, it is widely used to convey message to build public opinion and awareness, it can be used to educate people at a very low cost.

Imagine a classroom in every city with thousands of students being taught by just one teacher, an expert or authority in a field sitting in a studio!

But unfortunately, because of money-making approach of Media by private individual entrepreneurs and lack of interest by government, very little work is done in using the media to educate.

Media plays an important role in increasing public awareness and collecting views, disseminating information and shaping attitudes toward issues. Media is the most powerful tool of communication in the emerging world.

In this decade of knowledge and awareness there is a huge and grand role of Media, and it is all around us when we watch television, listen to the radio, read books, magazines, and newspapers, and everywhere else that we get some knowledge and information from. Without the media, people in societies would be isolated from the world.

Media helps us to expose and deal with social vices such as poverty, violence, corruption, bribery, suppression of human rights, rape, discrimination, crime, etc. TV Channels, Newspapers, radio, internet, etc. help us to estimate the realities of life and focus on every social matter and give us the chance to explore the issues of society more openly.

The media has got a vital role in molding a good society, to develop and promote lifestyles and move a nation on the right path.

It is the best tool to spread awareness in the modern society, whether it be in the political, social or economic sector, giving us latest insights about what is happening in our world, making us aware about our rights, creating awareness against evils in our society, new happenings around us, exposing corrupt politicians.

Specific Roles of the Media in Influencing Development:

✓Influencing development by impacting the geo-political, technological, social, economic and cultural conditions of a country by causing rapid changes or even resistance to change; e.g. climate change, pressurizing government to do something.

✓Articulation of national identity such as during struggle for independence or self-determination, and reinforcing national identity and unity.

✓Fostering national pride and chauvinism, like supporting national teams in competitive sports.

✓Promotion of national cohesion and unity; exemplified by how media houses are named – New Vision, Rupiny, Unity FM, Radio Wa, Radio Rhino, etc.

✓Provision of valuable information about development; providing guidance and advice to farmers via TV, radio and newspapers by running agricultural extension programs and development communication.

✓Giving the state a platform for propaganda and dissemination of government policies.

✓Advocating for free markets through advertisements.

✓Providing means of expression for the marginalized, dispossessed and the persecuted.

✓Acting as a voice of the public by channeling complaints and grievances; e.g. Yab Wangi, Paliamen a Lango, Perspectives, public hearings like the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters, etc.

✓Giving firsthand information about situations in war fronts and war zones, like during Operation North, the online Radio Rhino International during LRA insurgency etc, which helped to let the world know the atrocities that were perpetrated in the north, and Dwog Paco program, which helped rebels know that they could safely abandon war and return home and be welcome by society.

✓Popularizing of the arts, literature, music, creations, innovations, cultural work, etc.

✓Acting as the mirror of society; by educating, entertaining and informing.

✓Acting as the distorting mirror, whether inadvertently or as willing sources of censored messages and of willful disinformation.

✓Access to information determines the level of impact of media in national development. There was a time when UTV was the only TV and Radio Uganda the only radio in Uganda, and they operated for very few hours per day.

Their impact was quite limited. There was no competition and they were mere government mouthpieces and propaganda tools, albeit unchallenged. Not anymore. There are now a lot media to choose from and most operate almost 24/7.

However, that has also come with challenges such as proliferation and low quality programming.

Government, Media and stakeholders should work together to build better systems of democratic governance in both rural and urban areas. This is more urgent now than ever, given that Uganda is fast urbanizing and soon we shall have big cities such as Lira, Gulu, Arua, Jinja, Mbarara, etc. and rural-urban migration will become a huge challenge to deal with.

Government, Media and stakeholders should work together to harmonize conservation and consumption in a sustainable way.

In this regard I commend the RDC of Otuke, Mr. Robert Abak, for the war that he has started waging against those who are devasting large areas by cutting down shea nut trees for making charcoal, by arresting them.

Similarly, I commend the Chairperson of Gulu, Hon. Ojara Mapenduzi for making Gulu district a no-go area for marauding charcoal dealers who cut trees indiscriminately. I do not know how the stinking residue of molasses that used to pervade the sides of the road to Kampala at Adyel where they dump it disappeared.

But I think the media and stakeholders must have amplified the complaints of the people and force the local authorities to act. Whereas the new media which is largely digital and internet based has become pervasive, it has brought with it the fake news phenomenon with devastating effects.

It is instant and their news can go viral in minutes, like bushfire in the harmattan!

Today, everyone has become a reporter of sorts. What measures can this conference and media stakeholders come up with to harmonize the new media and traditional media, make them more credible and cause a sense of responsibility among them? Rapid changes in communication technologies have accelerated and expanded the role of the Media in national development and contributed in shrinking the world by bringing people closer through better means of communication.

How can we harness this to move people from mass poverty to prosperity? It is not enough to write or broadcast stories that mock the President’s rudimentary campaign to promote his version of drip irrigation to promote wealth creation in rural areas by parading photos of him fetching water in jerricans on a bicycle, pouring in used plastic water bottles and hanging them on each plant.

What alternatives are we disseminating which our poor rural folks can adopt? Have we studied how China over the years managed to move the mass of its people from poor rural agrarian life to the present day mechanization, industrialization and urbanization, and now has the fastest growing numbers of millionaires in dollars?

These are the questions that I expect this conference to answer. I once again thank the organizers for giving me this opportunity. I wish you fruitful deliberations.

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