Coverage and collaboration of the Media

Friday, November 27, 2015

When Government of Uganda finally confirmed that Pope Francis will be coming to Uganda, it was thrilling and all Ugandans were looking forward to the historic visit and being part of it. By virtue of my job, I knew I would be heavily involved especially when it comes to Publicity and media management. This was another chance to be involved in facilitating a big event, the first one being CHOGM in 2007. I am always heavily involved in government events but I knew that the Pope’s visit would be special.

It was late evening, in October when I received instructions from my bosses that I should begin the Media Accreditation process for Pope Francis’ visit. That email was exceptionally detailed and I remember reading it multiple times to ensure I got everything right.

I was supposed to assembled the media team to cover the Pope in less than two weeks, both local and International. The advisory was immediate because there was no time, given the deadlines I had to respect. 

In whatever I did, it never occurred to me that the media would have such overwhelming interest like they did. I received over 100 emails in less than 24 hours from all over the world. This influx continued into November or I should say became worse as the visit drew closer. Applications came in from Europe, America, Asia, Middle East etc, it was simply overwhelming. 

I soon realized that we needed a strategy to manage the numbers. Handling many people from different walks of life with diverse expectations and demands needs extra patience and caution. Some Media Houses especially locally based submitting many journalists to cover the Pope and could all justify the reason they needed all. The Pope had a special media team, Vatican Accredited Media (VAMP) that travels on his plane. A big team at that and I had to make sure that whatever details I received from the Holy See press office was followed to the dot.

From the word go, all obligations were met in order to be considered to cover the Pope, unique behavior from previous engagements. However, this made our work more bearable though extremely hectic. Many days I went home past expected time collecting data and putting things in order.

The exceptional interest and emotion attached to covering Pope Francis got me intrigued to read more about Pope Francis and realized what a fine man he is. I would never forget the photographer that cried endlessly in my office when she realized she had no access to cover the Pope’s visit. Not covering the Pope wasn’t an option and she actually camped in my office for two days until the relevant clearances were made for her to be part of the historic event. All the while she kept telling me how it’s extremely important for her to take Pope Francis’ picture with her own camera. I was touched by her persistence and went the extra mile to ensure she’s happy.

Understanding the media is essential in gaining their cooperation and improving the coverage of areas of interest. For the Pope’s visit i had to ensure that the media is well taken care of and you can never know unless you listen to their needs. There are two International journalists I had deep technical conversations with on how to ensure their needs are well addressed and I will forever remain indebted to them because I learnt so much that I wouldn’t even have learnt from a classroom. 

Print, Electronic, social media and all other mediums have different needs and interests independent of the other. What we finally see on set takes a lot of input, thought and technic. For VVIPs like Pope Francis, it’s even crazier; In today’s world, the media is more enthusiastic and competitive, something you would think is small can even cost a job. I didn’t know the importance of a second until someone took me through what it means in their world of business.  

The media aided a lot of public involvement by advocating and transferring knowledge to the people. This all embracing attitude ensured that the public was well informed about the Pope’s visit and some took it to another level of leading in fundraising for infrastructure development to ensure the visit was a success. Uganda gained a lot through the publicity drives undertaken by various media houses both local and internationally.

The wide spread attention highlighting the Pope’s visit to Africa was so overwhelming that there was no need to run commercial adverts to popularize it. Such was the level of media buy in. Both Electronic and Print media run stories/series/documentaries creating wide spread awareness and making the visit memorable. 

During the visit, we held daily Press briefings at the Papal Media Centre (Imperial Royale Hotel) to ensure that the media have the correct information and these were usually addressed by the Vatican Spokesperson. This was always between 9:30 and 11:00pm after the day’s events. The interaction with the media personnel, the friends I made are all a memory to cherish.

The closest I came to the Pope was at Entebbe International Airport during the welcoming ceremonies and at State House Entebbe. 

Working collaboratively with media professionals and organizations has been key to the successes of Media Centre and goes beyond facilitating access to information but runs deep to making sure that their stay in Uganda is very pleasant especially for foreign media. There are incidences where you have to take an extra mile, find them moderate accommodation, take them out for a drink and show off the Uganda they wouldn’t have seen if they stuck to their itinerary.

The media today is as important as our other basic needs because they play a key role in the development or destruction of anything. Uganda got the golden opportunity, seized it and should milk it to the end. I still receive emails from media showing interest in covering the country that Pope Francis visited. Uganda has her own uniqueness, the identity of Martyrs when it comes to religious tourism. The onus is on us to utilize it for our good like Mecca is for Moslems.

I believe, if the media identifies its responsibility and works with honesty, it can serve as a great strength in building a nation. 

I must acknowledge it was an honor to be part of the team that facilitated the success of the Pope’s visit to Uganda. It’s a memory that will forever be cherished