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Journalists do a great job within limitations

By Vision Reporter

Added 4th May 2011 03:00 AM

Yesterday was World Freedom day. Uganda Journalist Association arranged a week of activities to mark the day. Barbara Kaija, Editor-in-Chief New Vision made a presentation and below are the excerpts:

Yesterday was World Freedom day. Uganda Journalist Association arranged a week of activities to mark the day. Barbara Kaija, Editor-in-Chief New Vision made a presentation and below are the excerpts:

Yesterday was World Freedom day. Uganda Journalist Association arranged a week of activities to mark the day. Barbara Kaija, Editor-in-Chief New Vision made a presentation and below are the excerpts:

As we celebrate the World Press freedom Day to day, these are some of the headlines that have made media news in Uganda in the past few weeks:
1. 55 Ugandan journalists attacked last year
2. Female Journalist hit with rubber bullet
3. Eight journalists injured in "walk-to-work" protest
4. ISPs harassed, told to shut down Face book and Twitter for 24 hours
5. Journalist charged under abolished "false news" law
6. District commissioner threatens to file lawsuit against two journalists

These are the challenges we face in dispensing our day-to day responsibilities and I salute you members of the Fourth Estate for your contribution to building Uganda into a democracy with a vibrant economy.

Though we don’t always get it right, on the whole, I would say, we have done a great job within the limitations.

Today we salute the Courts of law for banning both the law of sedition and the law on publishing false news which greatly hindered our work in the past.

We would also like to congratulate the ---Parliament for passing the access to information law though we have waited for ages for it to be operationalised.

We still have many limitations in accessing information and many stories are half-baked or never see the limelight because of lack of basic information.

For the sake of democracy, we demand that the Freedom to access Act is operationalised so that we can do a better job of informing educating and influencing our country.

On a day to day basis we face a myriad of challenges from the corporates and multi-national businesses who withdraw or threaten to withdraw advertising when we step on their toes.

I know that the majority of us are poorly paid, poorly facilitated and yet expected to produce good journalism.

I however, won’t dwell on all the above because in the different gatherings locally and internationally, those angles will be adequately tackled over and over again today.

Today I would like to briefly, engage you, my colleagues, on what I consider the biggest challenges of the press in Uganda today; professionalism.

In the twenty years I have been a journalist, for 16, I have been a senior editor and in all these years, in spite of all the crippling media laws and interference from politicians and business owners, we have rarely been in real trouble for an accurate story.

Of course, justified or not, every day we receive complaints from influential circles and from the public but when we have our facts right the complainant always backs-off.

The times we have been in real big trouble, it has been because there was a slip in our professional standards or judgement.

As we celebrate World Freedom Day, the local media scene shows that Ugandans have much more access to the media today than ever before:
• Four daily newspapers
• 16 weekly/ephemeral newspapers
• 15 Free-to-Air TV stations
• Two pre-paid TV stations
• 220 Radio stations with about nine people sharing a radio receiver.
• For every 1,000 people, about 3 individuals have a computer.
• For every 1,000 people, 2 individuals have access to the Internet.
• 10 million mobile phone subscribers
And we are still growing at a supersonic speed.

Watch the mobile phone revolution in Uganda and Africa! We are at the brink of a mass media revolution.

The Mass media revolution in North Africa and the Arab world has been celebrated internationally as a tool to foster democracy, and indeed the Internet with the social media has led to the fall of notorious dictators. Whether that will lead to true democracy or not is another issue.

In Uganda and in the rest of Africa, it is predicted that we shall see similar trends on the cell phone.

The internationally-funded experimental sms projects on health, agriculture and education coupled with the home-grown mobile money projects will certainly foster economic and social development and also culminate into massive political dialogue on the cell phone.

This is inevitable and I don’t think any government should even lose sleep tying to regulate that because it is like closing a flood gate. However, I believe there is need for all stakeholders to educate the citizenry and the audiences on their roles and responsibilities.

With the social media the citizens have open public forum and are free to say and report on what they want, there are no barricades but certainly this comes with responsibility.

I agree with Irina Bokova, director general of UNESCO that all principles of journalism should be brought to the online and digital world. It is imperative that now, more than ever before, those of us who know the power of the media propagate and support a professional media. Otherwise posterity will judge us harshly. It is only a responsible media that can be stimulus for democracy and economic progress across the world.

Yes sustainable democracy greatly hinges on a free media and a free neutral Internet but I would add that it equally hinges on a professional and responsible media.

This is probably more crucial in Africa and in the rest of the developing world where due to the lower levels of literacy many people still think that if something is broadcast or published, it must be true.

A single untrue rumour published or broadcast can destroy decades of civilisation, and I am not sure that this is what a democratic media is supposed to achieve.

In spite of the advancement in technology and the access to social media, the world over, the old and new media platforms that are considered professional are also rated the most trusted.

The publics and audiences come to our radios, newspapers, websites, TV channels and mobile phone platforms for credible information and our media should be differentiated as such. This is not only good for democracy but also good for business.

If you think of the early means of mass communication in Africa, the drum; each beat communicated a different message.

It either announced death, festivities, the birth of the King, communal labour, a battle etc and through the various sounds, the communities spread far and wide knew if they need to convene at a central place to work or celebrate or to run for dear life.

The drummer had to be skilled to avoid any miscommunication. Miscommunication could lead to diverse effects like the degeneration of a whole clan or tribe.

This simple analogy on the rudimentary means of ancestral communication show the responsibility the messenger carries. The drummers had to be the best! We are obliged to be the best.

Uganda today has ten or so Mass Media educational institutions and yet most of our media is littered with evidence of lack of skill and professionalism.

Often I read a story about a function I have attended or an incident I have witnessed and I am ashamed by the levels of inaccuracy.

Sometimes I watch colleagues at work and I wonder what happened to the old-cherished notebook. I think if there is an enemy we need to address as the journalist fraternity or any area we need support on, from the stakeholders it is our professionalism.

I will give just one example from our recent past;
Uganda, September 11, 2009.
“Ugandan capital Kampala was yesterday on fire with clashes between security forces and supporters of Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi that ended in riotous incidents, vandalism, looting and indiscriminate killings.

At least ten people were confirmed dead while another 45 were seriously injured.

The Uganda Government reacted by closing four independently-owned radio stations and suspending their operating licenses for what it called “airing inciting messages and promoting sectarianism aimed at bringing hatred against President Yoweri Museveni, his government and against other tribes”.

By any standards, Government acted high-handedly and we hope we never see a repeat of this. On the other hand, the charges against the Media contained in this report are too grave to be ignored.

I don’t intend to discuss if there were true or not because I don’t know. What bothers me though is why all of us the professionals, loudly cried wolf against the government and yet never stopped to explore whether anything went wrong professionally.

I am sure the recordings of September 11 are still available somewhere, and if the media practitioners are too self-righteous to do a soul search, our good professors in the schools of journalism should take on this as a scholarly project.

Otherwise how else shall we ever know what happened exactly. Were the accusations justified? Did we in any way defile our profession? What are the key learning points?

Another issue we are faced with is the ‘brown envelopes’. Time fails me to delve into the details of the practice but often we get complaints from sources, politicians, business people, civic organisations and the public that a journalist has taken a bribe from them to publish a story.

Sadly, most of the complainants do not want to help us get to the details of the matter. How shall we expose corruption when we ourselves are slaves to the brown envelope? How shall we play the watch-dog role when we ourselves need to be watched?

I await the day when we as the media, shall have our own truth and reconciliation commission on these issues and other issues that bog our profession down today.

I wish you a happy World Press Freedom Day.

Journalists do a great job within limitations

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