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OP-ED: Why Ugandan Journalists Speak for The Voiceless But Can’t Speak for Themselves

Police Arrest a Journalist

By Paul Ssenabulya
As Journalists in Uganda join the rest of the world to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day celebrated on 3rd May every year since 1993 after being proclaimed by the UN general assembly on recommendation by UNESCO.

For years the Uganda police and other security agencies have been at the forefront of brutalizing journalists despite complaints from the journalists themselves and human rights bodies. Just last year in November scribes protested against police brutality and on their way to the police headquarters were brutalized and others arrested. They agreed not to cover police press briefings but the blackout didn’t last for days when press conferences were always full house with members of the fourth estate.

Given the booming journalist number of journalist groups in the country forexample Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-U), Uganda Journalist Association (UJA), Uganda Journalist Union, Uganda Editors’ Guild, Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) among others, the plight of journalists is expected to be at high strides but it’s the opposite in Uganda as members of the fourth Estate are subjected to exploitation, little or no pay at all, brutality and all sorts of mistreatment at work.

The fourth Estate has always been depicted as a group of well off individuals in society but in actual sense they are the most vulnerable to the extent that some work for daily bread (paid per story) others working for many years without pay. This is where i develop my argument that journalists do a great work in society to speak for the voiceless but can’t speak for themselves.

The World Press Freedom day comes shortly after a trending topic initiated by a one Sheila Gashumba ignited a topic of how her former work station NTV one of the giants in the country were paying her UGX50,000 per show which has sparked mixed reactions from netizens and members of the public, among these is Mukono Municipality legislator who said Gashumba took the mantle to battle with her former boss and give courage for journalists to speak up.

The fate of journalists is partly attributed to the fact that 80% of the media houses in Uganda are owned or co-owned by politicians who turn journalists as political crusaders to push their agendas hence killing their right to freedom of expression, fairness and independence since they can’t stick to their core ethics to serve in favor of their bosses.

This has not only ended at work stations but even in their professional umbrellas which push different agendas and forgetting the plight of journalists to agitate for good salaries, better working conditions, employment contracts or atleast appointment letters among other challenges that journalists face. Many journalists survive of envelopes they get in the field, this drives them to do unbalanced and biased stories.

The media industry in Uganda is marred with mediocres and masqueraders who have no journalistic background or media training, many media owners feel professionals are expensive to maintain compared to those with talents who only deserve exposure to the microphone to promote their talent, this has left many professional journalists in a situation of rock and slab but only to adhere and work for what is available without complaining. The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and the Uganda Media council have not done enough to make sure journalists enjoy their freedom, privileges and their value for the work they do.

It’s never too late, professional journalist umbrellas should think otherwise to push for policies that favor the plight of journalists, agitate for atleast minimum qualification for journalists like it’s in other countries like Kenya, organize workshops,demand for high wages, refresher courses for journalists, unite for a common cause to give courage to the young generation for future journalists. Broadcasters through their association National Association of Broadcasters(NAB)should also think of the plight of journalists as the industry and standard of living goes high every other days that goes.

The Writer is a Content Editor at Opera News Kenya

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