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Reporting political conflict across languages in Uganda

Date Released: Fri, 29 April 2016 00:16 +0200

Ugandan hard-news reports have a structure that differs from that found in typical Western newspapers.  This is what Levis Mugumya, an African Humanities Project (AHP) research fellow from Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, claimed in an insightful Departmental Research Seminar on Tuesday 26 April.

Most research on news discourse has been done on English publications that follow Anglo-American newswriting norms, or on publications in languages such as Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian, Vietnamese and Spanish.  However, journalism is increasingly being carried out in indigenous languages and local cultures in Africa and elsewhere. Dr Mugumya uses two linguistic frameworks, Appraisal and genre analysis, to explore hard-news reporting in Uganda. He looks at what makes hard-news reports a distinctive genre of writing, and at the features of language that news writers use to report on power struggles. What makes his research particularly interesting is that he compares news reports drawn from English-language newspapers in Uganda with others written in Runyankore-Rukiga, a local language.

Dr Mugumya’s research examines the ways in which evaluative language is used in newspapers in these two languages. This evaluative language is used differently by government-owned and independent newspapers in describing power struggles, which reveals their political stances. The independent papers use language that explicitly and implicitly assesses the behaviour of news actors like the police, army and government/political leaders negatively.  Meanwhile, the government-leaning papers evaluate these actors and their actions positively or avoid mentioning events in which their conduct would have been depicted negatively. The Runyankore-Rukiga news reports tend to use plenty of metaphors, especially in the headline and first paragraph or lead of the article. These metaphors emphasize the messages in the articles and at times show what the author’s political stance is.

The news reports in Runyankore-Rukiga also show that the ‘Ugandan hard-news report’ has a structure that is different from the typical structure of Anglo-American hard-news stories. While the body of Anglo-American hard news reports is usually made up of small segments that could be swopped around in any order, the Ugandan hard-news report follows an observable sequential pattern, although this is not always in chronological order. This shows that journalists working in the Ugandan print media seem to be moving away from Anglo-American norms towards a distinctive Ugandan way of writing news articles.

Source:Ian Siebörger