Daily Monitor Managing Editor Don Wanyama who left the newspaper this week over a controversial poll has spoken out on circumstances that preceded his exit. Read on:
Due to the massive distortions coupled with spin that has been spurn around my exit from the Daily Monitor, I have decided to set the record straight, especially in relation to the opinion poll the newspaper published on Monday January 12, 2015 and my role in it. My family and close friends have also asked that I do this, considering what some of the lies could do to my reputation. I also think I owe this to the many journalists both in Daily Monitor and outside it, who have been left confused over these events.
My tenure: I joined the Daily Monitor in 2008 as an assistant chief sub editor. Previously, I had worked as a sub editor in the New Vision. In 2009, I was promoted to a deputy chief sub editor and a year later named chief sub editor. In May 2013, I was named managing editor for daily editions, a position I was confirmed to three months later.
As a tradition, Daily Monitor carries out opinion polls in the period leading up to elections or when political developments in the country call for the need to gauge the mood among the public. It is something the newspaper has done over the years.
It was for that reason that in late April 2014, a heads of department meeting decided that Daily Monitor conducts a poll to gauge the political mood, especially in the light of events following the Kyankwanzi Resolution in February. I also need to point out that Mr Malcolm Gibson, the executive editor, who was about a month old in that job, requested me to oversee this process.
That is how I came to lead negotiations on behalf of Daily Monitor when we finally contacted Research World International, a research firm led by Dr Wakida, to conduct the poll. The discussions emerged because the civil society had already engaged Dr Wakida to do this poll yet the questions were very similar to what DM also wanted to test. Dr Wakida proposed that DM could split the cost with the civil society that were working under some loose grouping. Their contact person was Mr Job Kaija.
After a series of meetings (which I chaired mainly in DM boardroom) which involved Job, myself, Dr Wakida, Aaron Aguma (DM marketing manager), a lady called Liz also from our marketing department and Mr George Rioba, DM finance chief, we agreed on costs to be borne by both parties. Mr Alex Asiimwe, the managing director, would occasionally come into these meetings.
The other contest was the fact that civil society wanted the findings disseminated to all media houses while DM wanted exclusivity for obvious commercial reasons. We struck a middle point where we agreed that DM would have exclusive rights over some questions but importantly it would also be the first media house to break the news of the poll before others could have the chance.
All went according to plan until something happened. On the Monday of the premier publication, not only DM had the poll. The Red Pepper too had snippets of it! In our discussions, we had emphasized that DM would have to publish the poll first before any other media house would follow. Mr Asiimwe demanded answers from Dr Wakida. This would later affect the commitment by DM to pay Research World International.
The results of the poll basically indicated that President Museveni had an edge over his opponents, with 54% of sampled respondents saying he should be re-elected in 2016. This particular story was run by Daily Monitor ran the story on Tuesday, May 20, 2014.
As is with most polls, some parties will feel cheated. That was the general impression we got as we sought responses from the opposition. They felt the poll was inaccurate, had downplayed their popularity and some even accused the pollster of being compromised. There was one catch to it though. Dr Wakida is a card-holding member of the FDC and is a delegate from one of the districts in Bugwere. To accuse him of being manipulated by the NRM was a bit of a stretch.
The Red Pepper incident, however, and some of these protestations pushed the Daily Monitor to consider contacting a second pollster especially on some of the key questions around the popularity of leading politicians. This too was agreed in one of the Monday heads of department meetings.
The other most credible pollster, at least from what I gathered, was Ipsos-Synovate. Around June or thereabouts, Mr Asiimwe, Mr Aguma and Liz contacted Ipsos. From what I established, Ipsos was actually moving to the field already to conduct a general survey (this is usually a survey that seeks information on an array of things unlike the type we did with RWI which was politics only). In this case usually, clients are also restricted to a few questions since there are many fields of information being sought.
Daily Monitor asked Ipsos to ring-fence a particular question again on the politics which it did not want shared with other media houses. Unfortunately, when the findings were shared, New Vision was inadvertently given the results and they were quick to publish before Daily Monitor.
With this snag, Ipsos offered a make-good deal to Daily Monitor. That is how I came back into the picture. Virginia on Monday October 27, 2014 at 4:56pm, wrote an email to Mr Asiimwe (copied to her workmates James Kakande and Rose Aliguma) indicating that they were going out to conduct another poll and DM would be allowed to load 3-5 questions “at Ipsos cost”.
The following day at 9:13am, Mr Asiimwe responded to Virginia, in an email copied to me and Mr Malcolm Gibson. I will quote it verbatim.
“Dear Virginia, Thanks for the offer. I am forwarding this to our editorial colleagues to formulate the questions and get back to you within the week.”
I took note and walked to Mr Gibson to alert him to this email. Like he did in the first case, he asked me to handle.
However, the matter went off my radar for a while until about the second week of November. I then sent an email to the political affairs editor, Mr Henry Ochieng, asking that he formulates at least five questions which we would pass to Ipsos. I asked him to do this during their Friday section meeting. Mr Ochieng (perhaps one of the best and yet uncelebrated editors of our times) meets his political team of reporters every Friday to plan their week ahead. Cognizant of the contest that had arisen over the results on popularity of leading politicians, I advised that one of the questions focuses on this.
On Monday November 17, 2014 at 4:47pm , I sent the five questions to Virginia. She responded and told me they could not take Question No.2 on electoral reforms because another client had already submitted and paid for it. Our question read: “Do you agree with the Opposition about the push for reforms before 2016 polls? Yes/No.” I told her it was OK they could use the four and leave out that one.
The poll results
That was my last communication with Virginia. On December 16, 2014 I took my annual leave which was to run until January 20, 2015. I left Mr Henry Mukasa, the upcountry news editor, to act in my position. In that time, my access to my office mail was largely through my smartphone.
On Saturday January 10, 2015, I got a notification on my phone that I had an email from Ms Rose Aliguma of Ipsos. When I checked, it was an attachment of the findings of the questions we had sent them. I then called Mr Mukasa, who was not only acting for me, but who I also knew runs the news on Sunday. At 3.23pm I forwarded him the findings. I also copied in Mr John Tugume, the chief sub editor, and Mr Yasiin Mugerwa, the chief political writer, since I knew Mr Ochieng was away on leave. My note to them was that whatever angle they chose to use, it was important to explain the methodology since credibility of polls lies in how they are conducted.
On Monday, I picked a copy of the paper at my vendor in Kireka and scanned the article among others. In their wisdom the editors had chosen to play the results of Museveni against Amama Mbabazi—with the former endorsed by 57% of Ugandans. This was not distant from the results of the poll Research World International had done in May.
On that same Monday at 5.41pm, 72-year-old Malcolm, sent me an SMS on my phone, saying he had sent me a quick question. I synced my phone and this is the email he sent me. I reproduce verbatim.
“Don, sorry to interrupt leave, but a quick question: Is today’s poll part of the whole “poll discussion and planning” we did shortly after I came here? Is it all part of that? I have no qualms about the poll itself; I’m just being asked how this came about, and I don’t know the details. I also don’t recall seeing the questions (something I would like to do). Can you provide please. Again, no concerns whatsoever—though it was good. Just being asked by the acting MD, and I don’t have the answers. And if you steer me to someone else, cool! Thanks, Malcolm.
My response, sent at 5.55pm, read:
Hi Malcolm, yes, that’s part of the poll we discussed when we did the last one. It was agreed that we engage a second pollster to compare with what we had received from the first one. Actually, it is Alex, the former MD, who made contact with Ipsos and Okayed their payment. About the questions, I remember you tasking me to oversee this. This particular set was designed by Henry Ochieng and myself. When the firm sent the results on Saturday, I forwarded them to Henry for use since I am still on leave. Thanks.
However, the two editors who had handled the story had earlier indicated to me that Mr Justus Katungi, the circulation manager, and Mr Charles Bichachi, the managing editor for content/weekend, had asked them about the source of the poll (I will get to this later on).
On Tuesday morning, a friend sent me a Facebook message with an attachment he said he’d taken off Mr Wafula Oguttu’s wall (Waf, as we call him and whom I have immense respect for, is the current leader of opposition in Parliament. He is also one of the founders of the Daily Monitor before majority stakes were sold to the Nation Media Group. He also sits on the paper’s editorial board). The post read:
The so-called opinion poll run in yesterday’s Daily Monitor was a fake, a concoction planted in the paper by government agents with silly claims that it was commissioned by the Monitor. It was not commissioned by the Monitor. From my information, at least Monitor did not pay any body to do it if anything was done at all! It was aimed at destroying Amama Mbabazi. That is why Mbabazi’s name was unnecessarily dragged into the headline.
I indeed confirmed Mr Wafula had posted this to his wall. Before I could think of how to respond, I got an SMS from Mr Malcolm at 9.10am, saying I should see him because it was urgent. I told him to give me two hours and we agreed I meet him at 11am in his office.
When he came down from an HoD meeting, he began by asking me about the source of the poll and I passed him print-outs of the email exchanges we had. He did not bother to look at them. Then he told me: “Anyway Don, I am under pressure to restructure and I have decided I will have one managing editor. I am phasing out your position.” The transition from the polls to the restructuring was a bit dramatic.
I asked him why he had just three months back (October last year) spent his own money (Malcolm paid the tuition) to send me to one of the best journalism institutes in the US—Poynter—and he was dropping me from the team now. That question was critical. Why? In the emails he exchanged with Alex, then MD, George, the finance boss and Moses Ssesanga, the HR manager, Malcolm had told them he had spotted me as his possible successor and thought the training would be critical in that preparation. Why would an editor whom he saw as a possible successor three months later be excess requirement to the newspaper?
Anyway, Moses, the HR man, soon came in and indeed I was handed the “restructuring letter”. So urgent was the restructuring that my job would cease to exist the following day! I thanked Malcolm for all the opportunities, he acknowledged my brilliance and we shook hands and parted ways.
A few minutes later, I called up someone who hinted to me that an emergency meeting had been called on Tuesday morning in the MD’s office where the issue of the poll had come up. Malcolm and Charles had expressed ignorance about it and the conclusion was I had planted a poll in the paper. I was to be dismissed. However, to avoid legal issues, it would be clothed as restructuring with the company paying me benefits (so merciful of them, I must say).
Rules of natural justice, those that we emphasise in journalism everyday, demand that you listen to either side before you draw conclusions. It is simple logic. Unable to find the MD, Mr Stephen Gitagama (he is holding office briefly as MPL searches for a new MD following Alex’s exit last December) in his office, I called him at 1.13pm that same Tuesday and we spoke for 4 minutes and 36 seconds. The summary of our talk was that I had heard of the meeting about the poll.
I told him he had been told half-truths. I explained that DM actually commissioned Ipsos to do the poll and it was not true the poll was cooked. I offered to send him the emails to that effect. I could read surprise in his tone and asked that I immediately forward him the emails, which I did. At 4.36pm, Mr Gitagama called me back. He admitted that he had spoken to Alex, former MD, Ipsos and George (finance) and had confirmed that Monitor actually commissioned the poll. But he added: “However, Malcolm tells me he did not word your letter basing on the poll. He wrote that it was restructuring.” Anyone who can read between the lines will know what that means.
Earlier, at 12.27pm, I had called Hon Wafula Oguttu and we spoke for 16 minutes and 52 seconds. I basically told him his post on Facebook was wrong. I explained the whole process of how DM commissioned Ipsos and how I had sent the questions drafted by our political team. Hon Wafula’s response was telling and perhaps explains the genesis of this whole matter. Hon Wafula (and he can confirm this) told me Mr Justus Katungi, the circulation manager, had called him complaining that we had published a fake poll. (Again, my colleagues at DM who perhaps know Justus well will not be surprised he made this false call).
Mr Wafula had then called Mr Gitagama, who in turn had called Mr Malcolm. With Malcolm’s denial of the poll, the conclusion was drawn. When I told Mr Wafula that I was willing to send him the communication to that effect, he shifted the argument to the timing and other things. As we concluded, he told me he was going to call back management and I told him it was perhaps not necessary. I had been pushed out. Hon Wafula was honestly shocked. His words, “No, it can’t be. That is destabilizing the newspaper!” He promised to get back and I am still waiting.
I also called Mr Alex Asiimwe and informed him of the developments. Shocked, he promised to call Mr Gitagama.
On Wednesday morning, I called Mr Ssesanga, the HR manager, to just give him insight into what had transpired. I put it to him that his letter (it’s him who signed it) even when it spoke of restructuring, I had been pushed out because of misinformation on the poll.
Like I said, there have been massive distortions about these events, with some ill-intentioned people seeking to damage my character with numerous wild claims of how DM never commissioned a poll, how this was cooked up in State House and how I was paid to “plant” a poll in the newspaper, blah blah blah. I have seen several peoples names like Hon Frank Tumwebaze, Hon Muruuli Mukasa, Ms Lindah Nabusaayi,Mr Morrison Rwakakamba and others being dragged into this. Any good journalist must have contacts. I know people across the political divide. This, however, has never influenced my work.
The issues around my exit from the Daily Monitor do not only raise questions around the company’s administrative processes but also raises a serious question about the newspaper’s tag of independence and speaking truth every day. This is a question that both the commercial and editorial managers of Daily Monitor must reflect about. It is no doubt that a free press is a cornerstone of any democracy. However, what defines that “freedom” and “independence”? What exactly does “independence” mean for a newspaper? Is “independence” the same as “pro-opposition” or does it translate into “anti-Museveni” or “anti-government”? Should a poll that you commission and turns out with positive results about a sitting president be shelved because it does not fit into the “independence” notion? I can bet my leg that had the poll results perhaps shown the opposition to be leading, we would never have seen what happened.
It is also sad if claims I am hearing that journalists who do not seem to buy into a certain political mission have been targeted for sacking under the so-called “restructuring” plan. What message is Daily Monitor sending?
In my conversation with Hon Wafula, he mentioned something about the timing of the poll being wrong. It is also something that Mr Otim Lucima, the Monitor Opinions pages writer, told me when I engaged him over an email he had sent about the poll. It is something I am yet to grasp. Assuming I made wrong procedural decisions (like not letting my immediate boss know the poll results were back), the bottom-line questions we must ask are: was the poll published by the Monitor genuine? Did Monitor engage Ipsos to do a poll? Did Monitor draft the questions? Was Monitor bound to publish the poll? I guess when we get these answers, then we shall know where the problem lies.