Why Art & Culture Get No Respect in the Ugandan Media

By David Tumusiime – I have been an arts and culture reporter for six years with four newspapers and a magazine. That should tell you something. Perhaps even more telling, in those six years I have sometimes found myself struggling to pay the rent. As for the basic necessities, let’s not even go there. But I’m still an art and culture reporter. Though I have often thought of quitting, I know I never will.

Arts and culture are an absolute necessity for life to have any meaning. To me at least. The few times I have tried to quit reporting about them, I have returned with a greater fervour and dedication because I firmly believe in the arts we find the repository of all that is finest in us, in our society, the essence of our humanity. I have written for free or accepted to be paid much less than the worth of the work I was doing, just so I can share my enthusiasm, my love, my latest art findings. This is why Raisedon Baya’s Media Lagging behind in Arts Appreciation which was posted on this site three weeks ago struck such a passionate and painful cord. I know all that he is talking about and more!

I know it’s the arts pages to go first when a newspaper decides to print fewer pages. I know about the news room attitude that regards arts reporting as somehow a ‘lesser’ form of journalism, not far above tabloid trash reporting. And how I was told by a former editor, leaving his newspaper for another that we both hoped could give me better terms, “I wish you the best. I am not happy, but I am glad you are getting to move on. You gave entertainment reporting in Uganda what it had lacked for so long but frankly it was beneath your talents.”

More depressing than that attitude is the undisguised contempt in which the subjects of our reporting are often held. Not too long ago, the university degree course of Music Dance & Drama was regarded as a degree course for failures and on the street renamed Musilu Dala Dala. Literally translated ‘For the Totally Stupid.’ Recently our very own President Museveni who majored in Political Science during his university tenure in Tanzania can denigrate those who pursue humanity studies as ‘studying for nothing.’ They are merely wasting the hard earned tuition from their peasant parents.

Once upon a time I used to let myself get entangled in shouting arguments with colleagues who used to go as far as questioning the mental stability of the musicians I often interview and have got to know away from their stage personae. That is when they were not unfavourably comparing them against musicians past and lamenting the ‘death’ of talent in these modern day ‘hacks.’ No thoughts are ever paid to the miracle that these musicians are creating, largely self taught because there are hardly any formal training opportunities when it comes to most of the arts. That some of the most popular musicians sporadically are able to employ hundreds of people who in some way are connected to events like their concerts.

David Tumusiime is currently engaged in creating a Ugandan film website is the owner of www.madandcrazy.blogspot.com and writes for www.edirisa.org/studio  as well as The Observer newspaper in Uganda.