Our media has been awash with news of the departure of The New Vision editor-in-chief, Belgian Els de Termmerman, who ascended the position about two years ago. First, I realized that no one was willing to tell the real tale behind her exit. When she was asked, all she could say was the “working environment could not guarantee her the editorial independence she had been assured of when she was handed the job.”
And for the other protagonist, CEO Robert Kabushenga, he kept telling news houses that Els had quit on her volition and he kept reiterating how no individual was bigger than the media house. This morning, he published a statement saying the same, adding though that editorial independence was still assured.
Take it or leave it---Els’ decision to quit was not a result of accumulated incidences that could not guarantee her “editorial independence”. It was a few “minutes of madness” and a disagreement with Kabushenga that led to that decision. This was how the events played out.
On Tuesday last week, The New Vision’s lead story talked of heads of state arriving for the tripartite summit. But the story below the headline had nothing to do with that headline. The story, written by Anne Mugisa, actually was based on an interview she had with the Zimbabwean opposition officials, including MDC Vice-President Thokozani Khupe, who were in Kampala to state their case against Mugabe, who also was here for the summit.
Confidential reports indicate that President Museveni was not very impressed with the notion of a state paper giving space to a group that was here to “attack” his guest Mugabe. He then got in touch with Kabushenga to make his dissatisfaction known. The loyal CEO promised to make do for that “oversight”.
However, Els was not going to have anything like that. I directly worked under Els for a year, and many of the times, I did the foreign news pages, which she supervised. I can assure all folk and sundry that Els was no admirer of Mugabe. She categorises him among the African despots, who have ruined this continent.
She, therefore, told Kabushenga to his face that nothing like “making up” for Mugabe would have space in the paper. The sly Kabushenga beat her to the game. He got the article written under the “Vision Reporter” cover and took it to the chief sub. So, on Friday morning, Els wakes up to find a second page headline; “Museveni blasts traitors.” The story was basically meant to go even with the first.
That is when all hell broke loose. Els interpreted Kabushenga’s decision to by-pass her as unfair and it is what she called “failure to guarantee editorial independence”.
In the mad dash of fury, she confronted Kabushenga, and with the CEO standing his ground, threatened to quit. Jumping unto the line, Kabushenga told her to make good on her threat. At a “thuperthonic” pace as Kabushenga himself would say, Els sent the resignation mail, Kabushenga assented to it. End of story or was it?
Truth is there was nothing like systematic failure to guarantee editorial independence that could have pushed Els out. It was more of an ego clash and an act of fury. Kabushenga is a self-professed Movementist but he must get some credit---he has given editors in New Vision some space to do their work. That is how the New Vision led the crusade to defend Mabira Forest, one of those incidents that put this government to test.
Of course you can’t downplay the fact that in Els, Kabushenga saw a limitation of his own influence. Els was appointed by the President and some times took instructions from him. A Kabushenga, whom we all know is a politician in-the-waiting, may not have been happy sharing a room with someone who could also get his master’s ear. It would be best if he called all the shots---that is how, he quickly endorsed Els’ resignation. To have one competitor less.
But, and BELIEVE ME ON THIS; Els may have realized her folly. My sources tell me she is negotiating a come back and is willing to issue an apology. Just don’t rule out anything.
And finally, those Namanve bastards (read Red Pepper) on Saturday claimed I and some colleagues were among those fired from The New Vision. Facts are;
I resigned from New Vision to take up a slightly senior position in Monitor. When I tendered my resignation, Els rejected it. My salary was increased but I insisted.
Maria Muzaaki resigned in August to go for further studies in Oslo. She is pursuing a Masters in Journalism there.
Mariam Alowo resigned and is pursuing a Masters Degree in Sweden.
Rita Muzira resigned after getting a job with Uganda Revenue Authority.
Penlope Ankunda has resigned to go into PR, although Kabushenga is still making effort to convince her to stay.
Bernard Opwonya resigned and went to NTV.
It is not true that we were fired. Ignore those gossips.