In this exclusive interview we had with Joel Isabirye a media consultant and guru almost two weeks ago,we discuss several issues including Joan Lule a top TV presenter that were bare knuckles on miss Uganda,his sex life and relationship status,the media and of course the Corona Virus.Below is the interview.
Big Bang News: What have you been up to lately?
Dr.Joel Isabirye: I have been working as usual, building or maintaining media brands, some small business and teaching at university.
Big Bang News: You were known for marrying every year, but the last two years have not brought up anyone new, are you still searching or you gave up?
Dr.Joel Isabirye: (Laughing). Those reports are not accurate. I have not been marrying every year.
Big Bang News: So?
Dr.Joel Isabirye: That’s all I will say.
Big Bang News: Okay. What do you think of the media today and how it was when you started?
Dr.Joel Isabirye: It has greatly changed. We have more platforms across different media clusters. We have several radio stations, multiple television stations, and social media platforms. So, there are more channels for those interested in investing, practicing, communicating or consuming.
Technology has changed. A few years ago, people were using cassettes, cartridges, reel to reel, turn tables, CDs, Mini Discs and so on. Today everything is based on computer playback systems.
On the other side, there is a struggle for the little resources available from advertisers. This has led to a lot of compromises on content as different platforms struggle to survive. We are in the age of content marketing, where media houses trade content, even if most of it may not be negative. So, we hear of low pay for staff, but also that companies are running into debt, some closing shop or selling off.
Fake news has also become the new normal. Media houses or platforms sometimes want to break the news first. As a result, we see a lot of news breaking through without fact checking. But there is a positive to it. As this continues to happen, the public has become used to the fact that sometimes the news might be true or not true. So, they will question a story and search on until they find out the true version. In this process, some media houses and platforms are beginning to seek the fact so that it does not cost them their credibility.
The digital landscape is increasingly important. Not only because it creates a social connection that coalesces into big communities of readers, viewers or listeners, but it is also threatening the existence of the traditional media platforms. For example, I do not need to wait for a newspaper to give me news. Sometimes social media breaks news faster than radio and television. This means I might not buy a newspaper everyday like I used to do. Influencers have emerged and some are doing a really good job.
But I like digital platforms for some other things. One it enables free access at a minimal cost of data. Everyone can have their own platform as a voice to invest or disseminate information with ease. It is also easy to measure. I can know how many people read a post or tuned in to a radio broadcast. For traditional media, with the exception of newspapers where you measure how many copies sold, you will never know how many people listen to a radio station or television station. A lot of that sort of analysis is therefore perceptual (based on perception). So, to the advertiser the real value comes from being able to measure impact on awareness and consumption through sales. Digital media enables them to measure that.
Yet at the same time, advertisers think digital media are for young, unreliable, low- or no-income consumers. They think those who are logged on to digital media have no jobs and go there for entertainment and social connection. This perception is partly because the type of conversations or content online are mainly of what they call an ‘unserious’ type. One can think those are jobless people who have nothing to do, spending time talking all day long.
These perceptions can be debated, but they are the reason why in spite of the growth of digital media and its followers, advertising is still low. This will change with time. Some said the same of radio when it started in the 1920s and even here in 1993.
The proliferation of traditional media has also led many to duplicate themselves. When you watch television, you see all the stations doing the same thing, with only a difference in the titles or names of the programs.
Professionalism is lacking in some stations, and some personalities. But some are really good and professional.
Big Bang News: So how can the traditional media platforms manage this?
Dr. Joel Isabirye: The simplest way is to carry their content online. They should build other content platforms for online, different from their traditional platforms. These media have the advantage of being well resourced to gather news, investigate, fact check and edit with depth. They have large news rooms, networks, footprint, and money.
In addition, the media must create niche products. Generalist content is not going to compete in a crowd, but specialized content will pull through. For example, I told the head of legal affairs at Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) two years ago that I do not know why there is no channel specializing in education, the law or health. Everyone is running after the same thing. So many advertisers will want a dedicated channel to law or health because they know that they will find particular types of clientele.
Big Bang News: How about the music industry?
Dr.Joel Isabirye: The music industry has also grown. It has many artistes, new records coming out and new artistes breaking through. The quality of recordings, and videos have greatly improved. The visual appearance of the artistes is also good and polished. But the recordings no longer have staying power. Back then Juliana would release ‘Diana’ and it remains a public favorite for two years. But today, you might hear ‘Jangu Ondabe’ in January and somehow by July no one is talking about it again. Perhaps it is because there are many songs being released day in day out.
Artistes are certainly earning more than before, but not to the extents that can make their lives sustainable. If the music industry was sustainable, artistes would not be running to President Museveni for help because they would be well off. He has to switch some of the expenditure to satisfy the music community because it is also important. He believes that each sector of society needs a piece of what is there. But he would not do so if they had significant revenues from the industry.
We also see some artistes crying for help when they are ailing. This should not be case if the music industry strengthened its business models.
Some artistes are smarter than the previous generations. They have invested and so can lead sustainable lives outside the record industry.
One thing we should also note is that the emerging artistes lack the charisma of the previous generation. They are stars yes but do not have verbal presence like the group of chameleone, bebe cool and bobi wine. You might go on for two years without hearing Sheeba say a word. But she is releasing hits day after day. You might hear from John Blaq or Vinka, but they will just be saying feel good things. Not those strong interviews that would be debated for a whole year.
This means that the new artistes are not as influential as the group of Bobi Wine, Bebe Cool and Chameleone. I do not see Spice Diana holding a political rally in Kotido and people come and listen to her political persuasion. But Bebe Cool, Bobi Wine, and Chameleone can do so.
That however is not a problem. Each generation has its way of things. More importantly. it is not only in the industry, it cuts across. Back in the day, our medical doctors, lawyers, lecturers etc were very strong on the public scene. They could be quoted on different things. Today it is not the case.
Big Bang News: Speaking about Museveni, you spend half your time defending him on social media. You also spent a lot of time bashing Bobi Wine when he tried to challenge Museveni. How did this come about, because you were not known to be a politician. How much were you paid?
Dr.Joel Isabirye: Well I do not think I spend half my time on Museveni. It is much less. But personally I speak about different things online. I defend what I think is right and criticise what I think is wrong. I defended Trump when the system was trying to block him from emerging first as the Republican candidate. I spoke against the attempt to block him as being hypocritical of the establishment in the United States. He never paid me a coin, nor does he know me. I defended Muamar Gaddafi online against the NATO bombardment. He did not know me, nor did he pay me anything.
I think President Museveni has been good for Uganda. Our problems are many but he has tried. If you look at how much we collect in taxes compared to what we demand of government, we can be like a child in a home whose father has no car, and he requests him to drive him to school every day. Even if Bobi Wine or Besigye became president, with the amount of taxes we collect, they will do only 10 percent of what Museveni has managed to do. Therefore, I think when the revenue situation improves Museveni will have a chance to change a lot that still lags behind. And I do not foresee that revenue coming from taxes. I see it coming from oil. Three years after oil begins to flow, Uganda might be like it never was before.
On Bobi Wine, I think he is good person, a brilliant artist. He is also my friend. I think he is free to stand for any post he wants in the country, but I will reiterate that Museveni is better and more experienced because he has been there and done that. Look at the handling of COVID. Imagine if we had an inexperienced person in that seat, what would be going on by now.
There are those who say but Museveni also started inexperienced. That is true. So because he already is there, why should we then go for someone still trying to learn. It was nature that brought him first. I am using the principles of hiring personnel in organizations. I would definitely go for a more experienced station engineer if I was setting up a new radio station, than one who is explaining to me the theories of what he learnt at university.
One other thing that has affected delivery of services in President Museveni’s regime is the vast and sometimes inefficient public service. Not all are inefficient but some. Whenever you see Museveni sending the military into civil departments, you know that he does not trust that they will deliver. The army is highly efficient, and is trusted by the public. So I think if the entire civil service was as efficient as the updf, perhaps a lot more of the gaps would have been closed. But Uganda will get there.
Big Bang News: So what do you make of COVID-19?
Dr.Joel Isabirye: COVID-19 shows that life is uncertain. That is one thing we always forget. You wake up one day and there is a new reality. My second PhD degree was in economics of development and my dissertation focused on economic crises. My research was on how the private sector responds to economic crises. I argued that economic crises like all other crises or tragedies are not predictable, yet they are cyclical, they occur after every so often. But mankind does not seem to learn from previous crises, or epidemics and the same mistakes of fragility seem to exist. I studied over 60 economic crises since the economic crises in the Roman Empire in 33AD until the Chinese Stock Market crisis in 2012.
Because they are unpredictable, there are things that we need to do. We need to prepare. But as you can see the whole world did not prepare for COVID. Look at how sophisticated developed nations which are our reference points for development are struggling.
Financially, most of humanity does not save. You can see what is going on in America. One week after a lock down, people did not have what to eat, because like us they are hand to mouth. They depend on the jobs that they do. That is not a problem, but we need to save something to be able to weather the storms. Nations must build financial reserves to last for even five or more years. No country in the world is capable of that today.
In 2015, Dr. Sudhir Ruparelia told me he saves 90% of any money he earns. I wish I can reach that level. Meaning if you give him 100,000 shillings, he will save 90,000 and spend 10,000.
That said, government in Uganda has handled COVID well. It needs to do more for businesses and individuals if it can.
Big Bang News: So, for anyone trying to become a Senior International Media Consultant like you, what advice do you give them?
Dr. Joel Isabirye: It’s a long road with no short cuts. But, first, you must learn everything you need to know to be able to satisfy your clients. Clients know how they test your knowledge or experience. Secondly, network. You must know as many people as possible that can help you make things happen. Thirdly, you must strive to have results. Do not look at a project as small. Put all your time, thought and energy into. Businesses need results.
Big Bang News: What do you think about the Joan Nakintu Lule saga, where she blasted Miss Uganda?
Dr. Joel Isabirye: Well I have seen the comments about that issue online. There are some complaints I have heard about Joan in the past especially from viewers (including edging her co-presenters from on air conversations or for being arrogant and self-centered) and if her producer puts his or her mind to it, they can fix the problems. Some people think she has a disrespectful attitude or attitude of pride. I think I would describe it more as a big ego attitude, which sometimes is good for the media. Fifi Da Queen also has a bit of that and she is a very good presenter. Viewers and listeners sometimes love such personalities while others do not. Such personalities are never unanimous favorites, but they can do a good job.
That said, she is a good presenter, and I think she wants to build an identity of asking the hard questions. That is not a bad thing. But asking the hard questions does not require you to quarrel, or push down someone like a street fight. That is an area she can address. She can be abrasive, yet her aim is to be assertive. Assertiveness is a better approach for her.
Alan Kasujja used to ask the hard questions, and sometimes his guests would even laugh because they knew where he was going. He did so courteously. Nonetheless, Joan asked the right question. What she wanted to find out is whether Miss Uganda was seeing her participation in Miss World as a Half-Filled Bottle or a Half Empty One. And from her response, Miss Uganda intelligently demonstrated that her participation had some benefits or advantages, so she is a winner in some ways.
I think Miss Uganda and a large section of Ugandans overreacted. I do not think that incident required the mountain of response it got afterwards. It indicates that we are a very conservative society.