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Monitor ignored vital angles to school story on suspected food poisoning

analysis, monitoring

Parents invest a lot of trust in the teachers of their children.

So much so that receiving abrupt news that a child has been admitted to hospital drives any loving parent to the peak of anxiety. Such was the case in Uganda’s Mityana district on September 28.

According to the Daily Monitor story published online on Friday, September 29, about 100 pupils at Golden Learning Centre Nursery and Primary School in Namungo Sub-County were rushed to hospital “after suffering [from] suspected food poisoning.” And that police were holding “two male chefs” over the incident.

Reporter Enock Matovu told his readers that “police preliminary investigations” indicated that the pupils complained of stomach and headaches after eating a meal of posho and beans. They then began vomiting.

Titled “Two school cooks arrested as 100 pupils suffer suspected food poisoning,” the story spoke of a combined quick response by teachers and neighbours from Namungo Central Village to assist the affected pupils.

As the health condition of the pupils started to worsen, teachers and residents neighbouring the school used boda boda motocycle to rush the victims to various health facilities, including Namungo Health Centre III Koyada Medical Clinic and MUKJ Medical Clinic, among others.”

The reporter quotes the Wamala regional police spokesperson Racheal Kawala as saying that the two cooks “are behind bars” to help with investigations: “… Food samples from the school kitchen have also been collected by our Evidence Response Unit and taken to government Analytical Laboratory in Kampala for forensic analysis,” she said.

It’s commendable that Matovu ends his story by referring to two recent incidents of suspected food poisoning in different learning institutions for context.

This was a story with immense public interest. It required additional journalistic legwork to jell. It was wanting in basic narration, sequence, factual furniture, logic, and basic grammar.

For example, it announced in paragraph one that two cooks (elsewhere in the story, he calls them chefs) had been arrested in connection with suspected food poisoning in the school. Moments later, we’re told samples of the food had been taken to Kampala for forensic analysis. It means, therefore, that arrests were made on suspicion (by whom we weren’t told) the duo mishandled the food as to cause poisoning? Arresting suspects without evidence? That would amount to abject miscarriage of justice, paving the way for the rule of the jungle.

We were told the affected pupils were admitted to “various health facilities”, including the few that were mentioned. Pray, how did the reporter confirm (and he did not) the exact number of pupils affected without physically visiting wherever they were admitted and physically counting the victims?

Save for the wide picture the same reporter took of some learners being attended to by a health worker at MUKJ (and we weren’t told what the abbreviation means) medical clinic, there was no effort made to harvest a comment from the administration of the affected school to balance the story. The foregoing acts of omission left a whiff of guesswork.

Still on the picture of the pupils. It had a bare-chested minor; an unintentional failure that ran afoul Section 4 on the rights of the child in the Uganda Children Act (Cap.59) that include privacy (at Section 4(g)) and being treated without discrimination, irrespective of age or gender (at Section 4(j). The same law, at Section 3(1) provides, thus: “The welfare of the child shall be paramount.”

The story also exposes the writer’s punctuation marks laziness. For instance, that the affected pupils were rushed “to various health facilities, including Namungo Health Centre III Koyada Medical Clinic and MUKJ Medical Clinic, among others.” There wasn’t a comma to separate Namungo from Koyada. A reader could easily mistake the two institutions as one. Another one: “… the school used boda boda motorcycle to rush the victims to various health facilities … .” How possible was it to use one motorcycle to ferry nearly 100 pupils to hospitals? Logic responds that that would have taken a long time. No?

A keen reading of the story reveals a reporter thinking in his first language then writing in English. Here: “[R]esidents neighbouring the school” simply means “neighbours”, while “trainees from Rakai Community School of Nursing” referred to “nursing trainees.”

Finally, the story had so many unnecessary details that added no value. For instance, “[t]he incident happened at around 2 pm after the pupils had completed rehearsals in music, dance, and drama ahead of the school’s Speech Day fete slated for November (All the words in italics were unnecessary).

Lesson learnt? Journalism is the art of confirmation, cogent brevity and exactitude.

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