By Kemiso Wessie
Prof Monica Chibita, dean of the Faculty of Journalism, Media, and Communication at the Uganda Christian University, acknowledges how different the contemporary media landscape is from the past but maintains that media should not lose sight of its foundations.
Chibita’s commitment to ethics, research, and continuous learning is a testament to her versatility and passion for education and journalism. Her expertise and dedication remain invaluable in addressing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
She was born in Nsambya, Uganda but grew up partly in Kampala and partly in Fort-Portal, Western Uganda. She completed her undergraduate degree at Makerere University in Kampala, Uganda, where she graduated with a double Major in Education and Literature.
However, her journey took an unexpected turn into the realm of journalism and communication. In 1988, while pursuing her Masters in Literature at Makerere, a new program in Mass Communication was established under the Literature Department. She joined the program as one of its first two full-time staff members upon graduation, beginning her foray into the world of communication.
Chibita’s postgraduate academic journey took her to the University of Iowa in the USA, where she completed her MA in Journalism, and later, to the University of South Africa, where she earned her D. Litt et Phil in Communication.
As a student and intern, Monica gained experience in broadcasting, which later became a subject she taught for several years. One memorable experience during her broadcasting career was her time at North-Western Radio in the Twin Cities, Minneapolis and St Paul in the US. Initially, she was nervous about going on air, fearing that her accent might be misunderstood. However, wise advice from her mentor, Paul Ramseyer, boosted her confidence: “Don’t ask yourself ‘what do they think of me.’ Ask yourself, ‘what do I think of them’?” This perspective allowed her to connect better with her audience.
She believes one of the most pressing issues facing the field of media and communication today is the challenge posed by new technologies to quality and ethics. The viability of traditional media organizations, as well as the proliferation of fake news and misinformation, also present major challenges.
Since her early career, the fundamentals of journalism remain unchanged, emphasizing truthfulness, accuracy, balance, and transparency. “However, these fundamentals have had to fight for their space in what’s left of journalism, and things like citizen journalism have taken over the space journalism once occupied. Speed and profit imperative have certainly affected quality, even as new technologies have made wonderful things possible. The tension is healthy, but it is a tension that cannot be ignored,” she explains.
Chibita’s teaching style is centered on understanding her students as individuals and building strong relationships with them. Being approachable, prepared, and fair are some of the key elements she prioritizes in her approach to teaching. Her research experience has profoundly influenced her teaching methods, with a strong emphasis on literature review to align her teaching, research, and conference presentations. This alignment provides her and her students with confidence and expertise in various subjects, such as media and participation, diversity, regulation, and community engagement.
In her teaching, she fosters an environment of active learning by encouraging students to ask questions, engaging them in group work and presentations, and incorporating interactive methods even in online teaching. She places a lot of emphasis on ethics and encourages her students to read. “I also warn them that the field is fluid, and they need to learn as much as they can while they have the time and resources because there is no predicting where they will end up,” says Chibita.
She believes that successful journalists must possess good, clear writing skills, tech literacy, speed, versatility, a critical eye, and security awareness, with an emphasis on the importance of ethics.
Currently, she is involved in two research projects of significant social impact. The first project focuses on addressing vaccine hesitancy in vulnerable communities, where her expertise in communication and community engagement plays a crucial role. The second project aims to build capacity in reporting migration and mobility in sub-Saharan Africa.
She is also involved in the upcoming launch of a PhD in Journalism, Media, and Communication at UCU in partnership with NLA University College, Norway, the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and the University of Rwanda.