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Public Editor: Inside Bichachi’s new appointment

As the Public Editor, Charles Odoobo Bichachi is expected to bridge gap between Monitor Publications Limited and its public

MEDIA | The 1986 quartermasters at Nation Media Group (NMG) headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, this week pulled out an usual sleight of the hand with the appointment of Charles Odoobo Bichachi as the officer in charge of immunising its Ugandan publics to the media house’s ethical values.

The appointment of Bichachi — until this week the executive editor of MPL — to the position of public editor for NMG Uganda caught the newsroom unaware with many staffers C24 Talk contacted confessing they had only learnt of developments from the news release.

Tom Mshindi, the NMG Editor in Chief, took the usual approach of announcing the appointment via a news release with NGM sister companies in Uganda all sharing the information across their platforms.

“This is a critical role that exists to guarantee the public that everything we do, especially the coverage of news and events, is guided by public interest,” Mshindi said in the release.

“It is a role that holds the media house to account on the promises that it makes to the public and on the fidelity that it pays to its own Editorial Policy Guidelines and Objectives.”

Put succinctly, the quartermasters in Nairobi have realised the importance of immunisation, that it is no longer enough to simply slap slogans like “Truth Everyday” and “Turning on Your World” and hope it works on its own.

The Bazukulu ask one too many questions that the old man has to do four hours of national address and another encore a week later to just tell the people the “Truth Everyday” of his life.

Well, for those who missed both of Museveni’s addresses because of Umeme or for fear of that legendary “First Spittle” by the First Citizen, the truth Museveni said is that he has groomed his kids well and they never have to look for jobs.

Put another way, he has ‘Turned On Their World.’

But the same cannot be said of Daily Monitor or NTV for that matter. The same cannot be said of KFM or Ddembe radio even if Bbiina Baby and Kasuku took turns causing vocal earthquakes in the studio.

Readers are good at spotting errors and commissions in news articles. From basic facts to grammar and angling to agenda, they can spot it all.

Long ago before Museveni learnt to respond to Bobi Wine using a rumour monger site like Facebook, readers sent their feedback in envelopes to the Letters Editor. Japheth Obuku would have to type the handwritten things and lay them on the page.

Although some still do, while others send emails, the majority today hit the social media and rant or mock or attack with the fury of a publicist paid to be stupid.

You cannot have ‘Truth Every Day’ popping out of your masthead when on social media the public is reminding you that readers are not stupid.

It’s why the quartermasters in Nairobi decided that an immunised veteran like Bichachi would be champion a new vision for NMG by being that editor tasked with supervising the implementation of proper journalism ethics in Namuwongo and Serena.

The concept of the public editor might be strange in a third world newspaper milieu like Uganda where several roles are merged under one editor, but it is actually as crucial in the developed media economies like the US as 1986 is to Museveni’s addresses.

As public editor, Bichachi will be the man who identifies and examines critical errors or omissions, and act as a liaison to the public. The latter segment means Daily Monitor is likely to start a column for Bichachi to be running an editorial that explains the hits and misses of the paper.

In other words, Bichachi is expected to be critiquing Monitor and NTV productions in much the same way Andrew Mwenda attacks the Opposition, only that NMG will pay Bichachi to do this unlike Mwenda who has to pass bowls to ‘1986.’

Bichachi will report directly to the editorial board, meaning he will not be directly responsible to newsroom, in what Mshindi said would provide the Public Editor’s office its impartiality and authority.

Why Bichachi?

For the past six years, Bichachi has been among the editors who shaped Monitor’s editorial outlook. Mshindi said he is particularly well suited to the role as he brings a wealth of experience and knowledge of media operations generally, and specifically of the Monitor Publications and its parent company.

“His last assignment as the Executive Editor of the Monitor places him in very good stead to execute the role impartially and professionally,” he said.

Bichachi is a calm good listener with the patience of a brooding hen. It is said that as long as he is wearing his trademark checkered shirt, he can listen to a mad man narrating how to swat flies for an hour just to give them time to talk.

Although his job as public editor will not entail receiving complaints seeking accountability for misspelled words in headlines, the digital era means he will be using those virtues to listen to feedback on social media and respond to them without calling them riff-raff, hooligans and cult followers.

Mshindi did not give any indication that NMG is likely to fill the void left by Bichachi’s movement.

 

 

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