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Not a very good time to be a journalistPublish Date: Apr 23, 2014
Not a very good time to be a journalist
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Journalists usually go to great lengths in less than ideal conditions to report news.
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By Kalungi Kabuye

IT has never been easy being a journalist, even at the best of times. It is not the best paying of professions, nobody really likes or trusts you because they think you may write about them; and many times you waste a lot of time interviewing politicians who will claim they were misquoted when the story comes out.

And because of the crazy times that the job demands, you end up missing out on quality time with people you like; and at times those very people will give up on you. But you keep soldiering on, because you like and believe in what you are doing.

But in the last three weeks or so two things have happened that is going to make being a journalists a lot worse than it has ever been. First a government minister wakes up one morning and decides that journalists should be controlled, and makes it a crime for anyone who does not do what the government tells them to. Then a BBC correspondent files a story that removes a major amount of goodwill we might have had from the public that we really do mean well.

Last month the Information and National guidance minister, Rose Namayanja, issued a statutory instrument entitled the Press and Journalist (fees) Regulations, 2014. While many journalists were up in arms against the new fees to be paid, the instrument also sought to change the Code of Ethics of journalism, and in effect criminalise any breach thereof.

While there are arguments that most of what is in the instrument is already on the law books, why then did the Minister feel the need to issue new legislation? Had she had a bad night?

But most worrying is what the legislation terms ‘harassment’ by journalists. It specifically states that journalists or editors must ‘respect the constitutional right to privacy of home, correspondence, communication or other property enshrined in the Constitution’. It states that journalists should not ‘unreasonably persist in questioning, telephoning, pursuing or photographing a person who has asked the journalist or editor to desist from such acts.’

Whoever wrote that has never been a journalist, and has no idea what it takes to get stories that are published. And it will probably kill investigative journalism the way it is.

Like the immediate effect of the ‘mini-skirt law’, where people undressed women deemed to wear short skirts, harassment against journalists is bound to increase. Unfortunate cases like that of the late Mubiru Kakebe will happen a lot more, as the pubic interprets the legislation anyway it wants. Really sad, and I’m not sure it is even Constitutional.

I have never met Catherine Byaruhanga personally, but have seen her reports on BBC TV occasionally. Early this month she did an investigative story about Kampala clinics giving out fake HIV certificates for a fee. That was a good story, and she did it well.

But then she went further and interviewed a woman who claimed she could not get a job because she was HIV positive, and that wherever she went employers asked for her HIV status. Byaruhanga then goes on to describe what she said is the stigma that people living with HIV face in Uganda.

That was absolute nonsense. I have never ever heard of any workplace where one’s HIV status is asked for before you get a job. Instead of interviewing just one woman, Byaruhanga should have used her investigative skills, go the workplaces mentioned, and find out if that was actually true.

Her claim about stigma against HIV positive people is also absolute hogwash. Almost every Ugandan has a relative or knows somebody who has suffered from HIV. We live, eat and drink with HIV positive people. In fact many companies actually pay for their employees to get ARVs.

While it is true one can get any fake certificate in Kampala, which was probably the genesis of the story, her spinning it into stigma against HIV positive people is very bad journalism, and gives us a bad name.

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