Uganda marked the World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday with media practitioners and human rights activists reflecting on the issues affecting the profession in the country.
Inspite of the several achievements registered in the media industry over the years, erectile many say abuse of the rights of expression and arbitrary arrests of journalists by the state still persist.
However, approved another subject of debate has for many years been whether the newsroom still upholds quality journalism that reflects professional standards.
Some say the profession has since lost the depth of analysis on critical issues and surrendered to the threats of the state through self-censorship.
In a commemorative discussion held at Golf Course Hotel, the Editor in Chief of the New Vision, one of Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, Barbara Kaija however said that freedom of the press is largely hindered by lack of funding mechanisms.
She said that the digital age has introduced new dynamics in journalism, creating a need for traditional media to find innovative ways to generate revenue.
“Media freedom is dependent on funding. Good journalism requires quality people (journalists) and good journalists cost money. The political and legal issues remain secondary if media houses still lack sustainable financing,” Kaija said at the forum organized by Africa Centre for Media Excellence (ACME).
According to Kaija, while there’s increasing access to the internet (13 million people in Uganda) and demand for real time, quality news, many of the readers want to get news at no cost.
“Many radio stations traditionally got their revenue from death announcements but today, social media has made it easier for people to circulate such announcements. It’s true we have over 200 radio stations but many are facing hardships.”
“If we believe in media freedom, then we should think beyond traditional ways of funding like adverts and circulation.”
She urged government to start considering incentives such as tax holidays to mass media like newspapers majority of which is struggling financially and whose demise could have an impact on radio stations.
Many of the over 200 radio stations across the country still depend on newspapers to disseminate information to their audiences.
James Tumusiime, the Managing Editor of The Observer newspaper who also spoke at the forum equally argued that the freedom of Uganda’s media is threatened by commercial interests more than state censorship.
“We should avoid looking at censorship from only the perspective of the state. The biggest threat to the media is commercial interests,” Tumusiime said.
“Last year a colleague called me with a tip about a case in the commercial court in which one of the telecom giants in Uganda and some influential people were involved. But it took 10 days for this story to be published by the major newspapers.”
When people are no longer buying newspapers, he said, the newsrooms have no choice but to become vulnerable to commercial interests.
Only a week ago, Daily Monitor Publications, another traditional mainstream newspaper reported that it was undergoing a major restructuring in order to focus on the digital mediums amid shrinking sales. Daily Monitor’s market share now stands at a mere 30% from 48% in 2002.
Insufficient financial resources have seen media houses resort to prioritizing coverage of their big advertisers at the expense of issues that would have meaningful socioeconomic impact.
Underpaid field reporters too find themselves vulnerable to being compromised by organizations and business entities that are willing to facilitate them to cover their events.