Kampala 2nd/May/2012; HRNJ-Uganda released a report on Media Liberalization in Uganda just a day after World Labour Day celebrations and hours before World Press Freedom day. The report, a result of a study carried out in various media houses established that commercial interests are overriding quality, content and working environment of media outlets.
A total of 150 interviews were conducted. The key informants included media owners and managers, Uganda Communications Commission, Broadcasting Council, Media Council and journalists.
Uganda has a vibrant and dynamic media industry covering divergent interests and views. The industry expanded with the adoption of a liberalisation policy in that has seen an increase in the number of radio and TV stations as well as newspapers. The total number of licensed media outlets is over 240 including both the operational and non-operational ones.
Whereas there is an increase in media outlets in Uganda, this does not necessarily mean there is freedom of expression and speech. The Media Rights and freedoms are continuously violated and abused by the state and non-state actors. Many media houses have been closed for being critical of government; others have gone in self-censure while the operation of many other outlets is determined by the commercial interests of the founders and those of their clients.
However there are other managerial and ownership factors that have greatly undermined the industry. This study established terrible working conditions for the practitioners- especially news reporters. They include among others;
- The desire by the media owners to maximise profits which has resulted into reduced investment in training and remuneration for media practitioners, research and quality production with more concentration on entertainment and marketing. This has come with a cost to the industry
ii. Lack of transparency in media houses and the failure for media houses to contract practitioners is common.
iii. Many media houses have opted for freelance practitioners who are paid on piecemeal basis. The payment ranges from less than a dollar to a few dollars per story. This has consequently affected the quality of the output.
iv. The study also established that with the exception of salaries, there are no other benefits and protection measures for those working in risky areas.
From the research, the following recommendations were made;
i. Media owners and media practitioners should interest themselves with laws that govern them and be able to advocate for fair laws and policies for a better operating environment
ii. Protection and safety mechanisms for media practitioners and owners should be put in place by the various stake holders including security agencies.
iii. Security plans and allowances for those working in risky areas must be considered through health insurance schemes, legal defence and rescue plans.
iv. Media practitioners should consider creating or joining the existing labour unions to be able to demand for fair pay and protection from their employees. The unions need to be focused, neutral and independent.
v. Media houses should invest in research to better the quality of their products. This will lead to healthy competition and resultant development of the industry as a whole.
vi. Parliament should work with central government and other stakeholders to improve the present media laws to enable the media and other stakeholders practice freely. The laws should focus on facilitating media to practice their freedoms as generally accepted in a democratic society as opposed to control and monitoring media activities. Media laws should also allow the media council to punish media houses that violate the rights of media practitioners.
vii. Government should increase training of police, army and other security agencies to improve on their relations with the public and also the media. Government should also punish security agents who infringe media rights.
We encourage all journalists whether contracted or not to join hands in advocating for respect of human rights and press freedom in Uganda. We further urge media owners to improve on the working conditions of their employees.
To view the report: http://www.hrnjuganda.org/liberalisation_and_media_book.pdf
For More Information Contact;
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)
Kivebulaya Road Mengo Kampala Opp. St. Marcelino Pre. School
P.O.BOX. 71314 Clock Tower Kampala
Tel: +256-414-272934 / +256-414-667627