A twenty-eight-year-old television journalist and radio talk show host, Simon Kasyate, was on Saturday night adjudged Uganda's Investigative Journalist of the Year, 2008.
Simon's television feature of a displaced family's struggles to rebuild a shattered, previously blossoming country-side life, picked first prize from a field of 73 entries by 65 journalists.
Only in April, this year, he had been assigned by NTV to cover the official signing of a government peace deal in Gulu, but with the programme called off at the last minute and without much of a notice, he decided to employ the genius in him – landing the touching story of a helpless but unyielding peasant family life which had patrons at an impressive 4th Annual Uganda Investigative Journalism Awards ceremony held at the imposing Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala, clapping in endless applause and admiration.
Two women came close to the ultimate title though, with Leylah Ndinda of WBST picking 1st Runner-up and Barbara Among of New Vision, following up as 2nd Runner-up.
The Uganda Investigative Journalism Awards, instituted in 2005, seeks to raise the profile and frequency of investigative journalism in the country in the areas of corruption, human rights and rule of law, as well as peace and conflict reporting.
It is administered by the Department of Mass Communication, Makerere University in collaboration with Eastern Africa Media Institute and supported by DANIDA, NORAD and DFID.
An elated Kasyate told Myjoyonline Editor, Isaac Yeboah, (In Uganda to attend the Africa Media Leadership Conference), that he prays for an era where professionalism will dominate media ownership and practice in Uganda to expedite the development of the country.
"My argument has always been that the biggest threat to media practice in Uganda is not so much the State, but the absence of professional media owners and professional media practitioners. The combination of both will make the journalism practice in Uganda go a notch higher firstly, and then in East Africa."
He threw a challenge to media owners to seek to employ professionals who would impact rather positively on the image and ultimately, revenues of their businesses instead of putting profit maximization ahead of the investment equation in the media.
"My employers may not quite understand me because as usual they are companies, they are looking at improving or maximizing profits and minimizing costs, but eventually I think they are beginning to understand that the business they are in, which is media, has a lot to do with as well the people that you employ; a highly motivated and extremely professional and trained. They should be looking at that and if they haven't thought about this seriously, it's time for them to think about it seriously."
Kasyate, CNN Africa Journalist of the Year 2004, (Radio category) was presented with a plaque, a laptop, a digital camera and a recorder, and will also benefit from a four-week paid journalism training programme in Denmark.
The runners-up also received a plaque, a laptop and a recorder each, while Leylah received a digital camera in addition.
Dr. George Lugalambi of the Department of Mass Communication, Makerere University, told Myjoyonline that Investigative Journalism practice in Uganda is an uphill task in spite of the Constitution and the promulgation of laws to ease access to information.
"Still you find that public officials are not very willing to give out information because they are used to a culture of secrecy and so it's very difficult for them to now come around despite the presence of the law to make information that is in the public domain available to the media and to the members of the public. We are aware journalists still face those problems," he lamented.