By Cecilia Okoth
Uganda enjoys a far greater degree of press freedom compared to other countries in the Eastern Africa region, according to a top official of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
“I like the media in Uganda because it is vibrant although there is a bit of censorship,” said Netsannet Asfaw IGAD Director for Peace and Security division and also a former state minister for Information in Ethiopia.
IGAD is a regional body made up of seven member states that include Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. It aims at peace building initiatives mainly in a context of post conflict situation.
She made the remarks while chairing a three-day consultative meeting on Media for Peace Initiative, held in Ethiopia last week. Most countries, she noted do not understand the ethics of journalism.
“Most journalists are teaching the public to read what they want which is causing violence in our different communities.
People need training both in public and private institutions,” she added.
She said journalists should exercise a degree of self-censorship on certain issues as causing violence is not an option for them.
Several journalists from the IGAD region converged in Addis Ababa to discuss the state of media in their countries. Uganda has a vibrant media industry with over 244 radio stations, over 15 operating Television (TV) stations and more than twenty newspapers and a host of magazines and on line publications.
Unlike in the past, and a few isolated incidents, there is wide latitude of freedom with people using the media as a platform to criticize government.
One of the participants, Mohammed, a journalist from Somalia and working in Mogadishu gave a moving account of being a journalist in Somalia, equating it to prison life.
“Several journalists are killed and slaughtered in their homes and work stations. Others have survived explosions in Mogadishu and many of us have been threatened on phone,” Mohammed said. Culturally, he said, girls are not allowed in gainful employment which explains why very few women practice journalism.
It emerged at the workshop that Djibouti with a population of about one million people has six government owned media houses, which include one Television and radio station; three newspapers and one web based news agency.
“Despite the fact that the constitution allows us to open media houses, they are not on ground. Private media houses surface during elections and when they are over, they die out,” said Ali Barkhat an editor from Djibouti.
The state of media in Sudan according to Lobaba Hassan, a media consultant is mainly private owned.
“There are over 30 media houses in Sudan although a majority of these are into getting their information on Facebook.” Hassan said.
Ethiopia according to Asfaw, used to have over 190 media houses ten years ago, however, most of them have fizzled out because of a declining reading culture. She however, noted that it is not all gloom as the media in Ethiopia is picking up.
South Sudan’s Salome Kiden Kelle, a broadcaster said the biggest challenge facing media in her country include insufficient electric power supply, resulting in shorter hours of broadcasting as media are forced to use generators, pushing up costs.
Newspapers, she said, face limited circulation owing to diverse ethnicity and inability of the local masses to read.
Kenya’s David Ohito, a managing editor in a private media house said the media landscape just like Uganda is fully liberalized and vibrant.
“The level of media freedom is admirable and not comparable to many countries. We have no reporters arrested nor in prison over political and investigative stories,” he said.