It is a pleasure to have you as the new board chairman Monitor Publications and a board member Nation Media Group. How does it feel?
Thank you. I am much honoured to be appointed as the chairperson for Monitor Publications (MPL) and a non-executive director of Nation Media Group. It provides an opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the giants who have come before me and follow the traditions of Dr Martin Aliker and Dr Simon Kagugube (R.I.P). Trying to emulate both of these giants is a challenge and delight. I am grateful for the opportunity to serve.
What professional strengths do you bring to this renowned company to remain an outstanding newspaper (media house)?
First and foremost; I come from a financial background. So I am expected to use this experience to enhance the business and increase shareholder value while providing leadership and working with the board. I also have a good understanding of governance and the need to provide good stewardship. With these strengths, I expect that we can work with the Executive Committee [ExCo] to take the business to greater heights.
You are coming in at a time when there is a strong shift toward digital communication in the media industry. What opportunities and challenges do you envisage on the horizon as the company undertakes these changes?
First of all, there has been a paradigm shift in the industry. Traditional journalism is being replaced by digital journalism. I think that is inevitable, and it is a challenge we must face. Industry (fundamentals) have had a tectonic shift and the challenge of competition is even greater because entry costs are low. There is also a high prevalence of fake news in this space. These are the new realities. But they also offer opportunities because news will continue to be a major product and we must continue asking ourselves: Why do we report? What do we report? How do we report it? Our continued success will come from why we do what we do.
The media space in developing countries is still constrained by public policy and law. How do you think the media can thrive in such a challenging environment?
Journalism in developed countries is very different from that of developing countries. So our priorities as a media organisation must be based on our editorial policy to enable us to report responsibly and constructively. If we understand the need to practice responsible journalism, then we shall also develop a keener sense of what constitutes freedom of expression in underdeveloped environments like ours. That freedom cannot be absolute in the context of other factors. Again, we should be able to ascertain and verify facts before we report because I know some stories become so urgent we forget that there is a price we pay for pedalling falsehoods. That also impacts our credibility and we need to guard that credibility.
We need to understand that freedom of speech in the context of our development constraints is sometimes defined by armed groups rather than our idealism. At the same time, we have a duty to protect our journalists and create space for them to express themselves. It is a fine balance.
Audiences and readerships are becoming more complex and sophisticated. What sort of adjustments will Nation Media Group need to make to remain viable?
The industry is facing a paradigm shift and this has increased the complexity of the consumers of our products. So we too need to embrace the changes quickly to understand the market. That means we have to be omnipresent and ensure our products meet their requirements/expectations of a very diverse market. We must understand that change is inevitable, and we must be agile.
The media seemed to some extent to be more resilient during the Covid-19 pandemic, what landscape do you think lies ahead now that Covid-19 seems to be passing away. Will things continue to be as they were?
Covid-19 has affected the industry too but it has been resilient. Definitely, there is going to be a lasting impact. For example, our working spaces are changing and there is a tendency to have less contact with others. We now communicate news in varied ways. But we sometimes need to pause and ask ourselves what our customers want and if we are giving them value for money.
What must the company do to thrive?
Our products must be relevant to changing demographics and demand patterns in order to increase sales. But again, sell what? That is why it is important to understand why we exist, who are our clients and what do they want. We need to think differently and remain ahead of the innovation cycle.
What skills and experiences are most important for workers of the Nation Media Group in this technologically driven media environment?
If the business environment is changing, the skill sets of our journalists are also going to change in order to cope. Today, one must have credible ICT skills to be in this business. In addition, our journalists need strong analytical skills to tell the story behind the story.
Journalists also need to have very good Emotional Intelligence and problem solving skills because they are operating in a very harsh environment. You must live to tell the story. In this era of social media and false news, a keen sense of timing as to when and what to report the news is going to be a differentiator.
How do you view the future of the media industry in Uganda in the next five years?
The media is a business and for any business to thrive, it boils down to survival of the fittest. The NMG has been here for 60 years and we have withstood several storms. So our institutional experiences, if well-understood, should provide us with enough tools to stand the changing environment. But more importantly, we must be ready to change ourselves because if we can’t embrace the winds of change, we will have a rough time.
However, if we understand the changing environment, then we can focus on innovation and delighting all our internal and external customers.
WHO IS HE?
Professor Samuel Sejjaaka is a distinguished accountant, academician and businessman. Samuel Sejjaaka is a senior partner in Sejjaaka, Kaawaase and Co. Certified Public Accountants, one of the largest indigenous accounting firms in Uganda. He has more than 25 years of experience in management and directorship including governance and oversight of public interest companies, supervision of assurance functions and strategy formulation for growth.