In my previous post, WOO TAKEDOWN # 001 – The Banda Witchcraft Saga, we saw how sometimes even reputable media houses lend credence to the notion that witchdoctors possess supernatural powers by running uncritical news reports about such phenomena. When the actual reports are examined, however, there isn’t anything resembling good evidence put forward in support of such a notion.

witch-doctorWow… great shot! It’ll look great on the 9 o’clock news!!!

Once they receive a tip about a witch-doctor somewhere, reporters will typically ‘visit the scene’ and interview bystanders who will offer all kinds of wild tales about what they claimed happened at the scene. Because these stories run rampant in areas where the majority haven’t gone far with formal education, the ‘interviewees’ end up being the likes of peasants, market vendors, small-business owners, taxi drivers, boda-boda riders or idle youths. Naturally, their accounts of events are informed by the pervasive superstitious beliefs widely held in their communities. Such news stories seldom, if ever, feature a skeptical or scientific voice to offer a rational counter-point to the wild claims being made by the typical TV ‘interviewee’.

Sadly, this absence of skepticism is commonplace in the Ugandan media, whether it be television, radio or newspaper when it comes to coverage of stories that have something to do with witchcraft, or witch-doctors. Media houses almost seem to relish covering the spectacle of hysterical villagers as they report these witchcraft-related stories (probably because it makes great news footage for TV, or pictorials for newspapers).

broadcasting Why should this be of any concern?

As I discussed in a previous post

As harmless as running such news stories may seem, they are effective in reinforcing superstitious thinking among the general Ugandan public. People will consult witchdoctors for solutions to their problems, after all, even reputed media houses like NTV Uganda are running news stories in prime time called “Witch’s Magic Formula delivers Banda Thieves.” Reinforcing these beliefs perpetuates such horrors as ritual child sacrifice, because people are being led to believe by the local news media that witchcraft is efficacious.

The news media needs to be aware of the fact that by airing uncritical news reports about witchcraft, they worsen an already bad situation.

What could be the problem? Where is the skepticism?

Is there difficulty in finding local experts, or professionals, in the relevant fields to comment on these matters from a scientific perspective? Do the local ‘experts’ themselves believe in the efficacy of witchcraft? Do the reporters themselves believe in the efficacy of witchcraft, hence see no need for the inclusion of a skeptical perspective? Does the pressure of tight deadlines compel some reporters to overlook the inclusion of a skeptical perspective to these stories? Or do they intentionally seek such stories about witchcraft for the purpose of sensationalism, and entertainment value, in which case the inclusion of a skeptical viewpoint might seem counter-productive?

Might it be possible to incorporate a skeptical perspective in future news stories featuring witchcraft?

question mark

We wish to meet with members of the media in this month’s Freethinkers’ Night and ask them these questions, and also hear what they have to say about the issue of witchcraft in general. We will be inviting several prominent news reporters and news editors representing a wide spectrum of the local media in a bid to engage them on this very important issue.

There will also be a video presentation, and joining us will be Henry Ford Mirima, co-author of Unveiling Witchcraft.

And as usual, if you are an open minded person whose opinions are formed not by religious or cultural dogma but on the basis of science, logic, and reason and are interested in meeting like-minded individuals – you are WELCOME to join us at the meeting.

The October Freethinkers’ Night is going to take place on Thursday, 28th October 2010 at 4 Points Bar & Restaurant, Centenary Park, Kampala, starting 6PM. Entrance is FREE.

Next month:

Freethinkers’ Night November 2010: Which Religion is the ‘True’ Religion? A Dialogue with Believers