Place of residence: Helsinki.
When I was a child I wanted to be…a surgeon.
The new face of Nelonen, Jesca Muyingo brings you the evening news.
WHERE do you go after handling conflict operations with the United Nations, or managing natural disasters with the World Food Programme? For Jesca Muyingo, the answer was to take time out and reconnect with Finland and do so in the fastest way by presenting Nelonen’s evening news. Her career has taken her to about a dozen countries, and included stints with YLE, BBC, the United Nations and Credit Suisse. Now she has returned to the bright lights of Helsinki.
What inspired you to become a journalist?
I think it was quite intuitive. I never really made a decision, but I’ve always been quite inquisitive. I always knew I’d work in international affairs, and so, having acquired some journalistic experience, it was really obvious that my first real job would be in journalism, and I was also lucky to be offered a position as soon as I’d graduated. And now that I’m back in Finland, it seems the most normal way to come back to my home country.
People often see the relationship between a newsreader and the public as being quite a sensitive, even an intimate one. How does that feel?
For me, I come to work every day, and it’s quite a small office, with a small team – and that’s really all the people I meet! There are now so many news and radio channels, newspapers, magazines, the internet and mobile phones – I don’t think it’s as big a deal as it perhaps used to be. The irony is that I work here in the evenings, so I don’t really get to watch TV or meet people. At the same time, I realise we are part of peoples’ living rooms, so to speak, and people do come up sometimes and say something, though mostly I can tell by their slightly longer-than-normal look. But in general people are nice. I really don’t think of myself as having a high profile in Finland, certainly not on a day-to-day basis. Although I am mindful of being a role model for young people from minority backgrounds – and hopefully for Finns too!
You stepped into the shoes of the legendary Baba Lybeck – did that place any extra pressure on you?
To be honest, no. While I respect Baba hugely, I would not try to be her, and I’m sure she wouldn’t try to be me if that situation was reversed! I’m aware that she is extremely popular, and I am a huge fan of hers, but having known her as a colleague and a friend for over 10 years, I also know that we are very different. I really respect her having presented programmes all these years and it’s natural that in this profession she is in a different league from me.
“we don’t always
You’ve also worked for YLE and BBC – how do the organisations differ?
They are different, but both of the organisations have very experienced and award-winning journalists as does Nelonen. We also have some incredibly talented journalists here at Nelonen, although we are slightly limited by having a shorter news program whereas YLE has more time to play with. Nelonen’s average viewers are also different; they are slightly younger or more urban. We’re not afraid to provoke; I just wish we had a slightly longer slot so that we could do more, although I am sure our colleagues at YLE and MTV3 would say the same for themselves!
Do you also work as a reporter?
Yes, anchors also write news, act as editors of the late bulletin and do shifts as reporters. This was also the case when I worked at YLE TV News some ten years ago before I joined the UN.
Is the news everywhere being reduced for shorter and shorter attention spans?
I’m not sure it is being reduced as such, but the culture of consuming news has changed. Previous generations listened to radio and read papers; ours also watches international news on TV and online. Yet I too come from a completely different generation from people who get their news as snapshots on their mobile phones. I do wish there was a more in-depth culture of news amongst younger people, but perhaps that will come with age. I also believe that rather than every medium providing in-depth coverage on a range of subjects, in the future it is the audiences that will decide what they consume by only researching those subjects they are interested in. Research has also shown that young people often consider news to be quite heavy, irrelevant and depressing. So at least in terms of television, news as a programme needs to look itself in the mirror and ask itself “why are we here?” Are we here to entertain people, to empower them to lead better lives by providing consumer, health or environmental news, or to deliver hard news about international crises? I don’t think the genre has been adequately redefined yet.
Being of African descent, how do you feel about the coverage of African issues in Finland?
I think it’s the same as anyone who has an insight into a particular subject. Of course I’m occasionally, well, frustrated? Disheartened? I regret how simplified African issues become, and how de-contextualised and anecdotal they can become. I can’t say the coverage is always poor, but I could take almost every story on Africa and improve it. But, in the same way, I’m sure someone who is a nuclear scientist or has a disability looks at news stories concerning science or disability and feels the same thing. As a country we’re kind of rookies at approaching Africa, so there is a lack of basic knowledge at times. We don’t always appreciate the range and diversity of cultures and histories, languages, traditions and social classes in Africa, and we don’t fully see Finland’s impact and role within the world.
I understand that you are half-Ugandan, do you ever go back to Uganda?
I do, yes. I feel both Finnish and Ugandan – and both Northern European and Eastern African, both European and African, and have an affinity with several other places and peoples. Uganda has had its own problems, which meant we weren’t always able to visit. Strangely enough, when I joined the UN, I started working in Kenya and it was probably one of the best times in my life. Despite Nairobi’s problems with security, it was a very uncomplicated time, and both my Finnish and Ugandan families could visit me there. I was very familiar with Swahili-speaking East African culture and I still think that I could live in Kenya at some point in the future.
Immigration has become a huge political issue in Finland during the past year – how do you feel about the debate?
I try not to take part in it, because it would be leading me into an area that I believe to be irrelevant in the big picture. There is so much spin involved. I’m a Finnish citizen, and I’m concerned about the same issues as all Finns are, or should be – like the welfare of the people who live and work here. I’m concerned about our education system, employment, the wellbeing of individuals and society, adequate pensions and our approach to the care of the elderly and so forth. Therefore, to focus excessively on immigration without adopting a high level strategy to these issues first is to completely miss the point. Finland should rethink the lives and futures of people, not only the ones who are already here, but also assess how we interact with the outside world. I think we could do with a more robust and integrated strategy as we are currently pigeon-holing business, cultural, diplomatic and economic relations into different channels that don’t converge.
What do you see as the main problem with all this?
We have stopped talking about how we take people in, and instead seem to have got caught up in obscure terms like työperäinen maahan-muutto – what does that even mean? Who defines the need for migrant labour – employers? Ad hoc or collectively? The tax and pensions department? The individual immigration officer? Or the skilled or unskilled migrants themselves? So it’s impossible to take part in a debate where we are using a single term for countless different purposes and contexts. I’m more interested in how Finland can become more competitive, how we can remain an educated country and a wealthy nation. The question of immigration is urgent and important, but to me it is secondary to the big picture; the debate should be about the common interests and strategy first and subordinate elements second. Everyone’s common goal is to survive the recession and do better in the future. Finland has an advantage in not carrying the colonial history that other countries do, so the on-going risk is that we fail to learn from their mistakes and compromise immigrants’ integration and underutilise their potential here. After all, we want everyone – Finns and foreigners – to participate by studying and working here, to pay taxes, to share their knowledge and to be leaders in what I hope will be an ever-growing Finnish success story.