The pandemic has been a health and economic crisis – as well as a media crisis. But COVID-19 has also been an opportunity to be creative, says Abaas Mpindi, CEO of the Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) in Uganda.
Abaas Mpindi: I am ok, I guess. Ironically, on an individual level, I am busy using the second lockdown we are currently facing here in Uganda to concentrate on driving projects forward. But, generally, the situation is strenuous. Many people have difficulty finding food, or struggle to stay in a single room all day. People are falling ill or losing loved ones and are not able to attend the funerals. We have a saying here: It’s all God’s plan. But in this case I don’t agree, it’s a horrible plan.
During the first lockdown in March 2020 we started using online platforms. With the help of our partners at DW Akademie we were able to provide the students with data packages. As they currently can’t go to university, the participants were able to join our online classes.
We have a three-step approach to dealing with the changes: First, we have an online platform for journalism courses. We then invite the students to video conferences where we are able to go into more detail with them assist in detail. Finally, we set up groups in messenger apps and go through their assignments and provide group mentorship. In a way, the lockdown in many countries has helped us attract international media experts and trainers – from Ghana, Nigeria, France, the US or Germany – who all had the opportunity and time to hold their sessions online.
Yes. We were able to facilitate things more constructively and improve the quality of our interaction. By digitizing our curriculum, we saw an opportunity to reach out to students for example in Burundi, Somalia or South Sudan who would not normally have been able to join our classes in person. The crisis has motivated us to quickly adapt and innovate, establishing many creative ideas, that are here to stay. For example, we launched our MCI Radio program last year which had students using their phones to produce local news or community feature stories. They then send them to us which we included in our radio programs. We have already produced more than 230 radio shows this way.
MCI's #IWillStandIn campaign: mobilizing students and alumni to work as a ‘reserve force’ for media outlets
We ran our #IWillStandIn campaign, mobilizing our students and former students to work as a ‘reserve force’ for media outlets when their journalists fell ill.
We also launched “The Debunk Show” on social media to tackle the spiraling mis- and disinformation around COVID-19 and other issues. Furthermore, we extended our ‘mental health journalism’ class that previously focused on how to report on health issues to also deal with the mental health of journalists themselves; many of whom struggle with depression, anxiety or loneliness.
During the pandemic it became apparent that the world needs journalists more than ever. We would have lost even more people if it hadn’t been for journalists constantly drumming on about the importance of using protective measures, as well as simplifying and amplifying the advice provided by health experts. On the other hand, there are issues: People are tired of the countless reports relating to numbers – the infection rate, the death toll – without context. And many stories that were not about COVID-19 didn’t make the news, although they were important to share – for example regarding Malaria, HIV or migration issues. But overall, I believe that journalists deserve credit for saving the world. And, yes, I truly believe journalists are saving the world. We intend to organize an award ceremony this year to honor outstanding journalistic achievements.
This project is supported by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).