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The East African : February 3rd 2014
The EastAfrican 4 MEDIA LIBERALISATION IN UGANDA FEBRUARY 1-7, 2014 Special advertising section Watchdog role eroded by low pay, bribery ‘Over 80 per cent of Uganda’s journalists are freelance, meaning they are likely to take bribes since a salary at the end of the month is not guaranteed’ By DICTA ASIIMWE Special Correspondent als. Poo≥ pay has also been blamed fo≥ the continued g≥owth of the b≥own envelop cultu≥e, a p≥actise that expe≥ts say has a≠ected the quality of info≥mation delive≥ed to the public. Playe≥s in the indust≥y say that the L p≥actise, whe≥e institutions and individuals “pay” jou≥nalists to influence public opinion has made nonsense of the media’s public watchdog ≥ole. The b≥own envelop cultu≥e has given ≥ise to a comp≥omised media unde≥ who’s watch massive cove≥-ups have occu≥≥ed. Fo≥me≥ Monito≥ Publications me- dia manage≥ tu≥ned politician Wafula Ogutu, says the b≥own envelop has wo≥ked fo≥ people who embezzle and ibe≥alisation of the media in Uganda has failed to add≥ess the p≥oblem of poo≥ ≥emune≥ation of media p≥ofession- steal public funds and ≥esou≥ces. Such people get to stash away thei≥ loot and no questions a≥e asked. “Whethe≥ in gove≥nment, non- gove≥nmental o≥ganisations o≥ embassies, people a≥e stealing public ≥esou≥ces but you can neve≥ find a c≥edible jou≥nalist with the mettle to expose this c≥iminal activity the way it used to be done du≥ing ou≥ times,” he says. Robe≥t Sempala the national co- o≥dinato≥ at Human Rights Netwo≥k fo≥ Jou≥nalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U) ag≥ees with this thinking, adding that skewing public opinion in favou≥ of news make≥s a≠ects the implementation of Ugandans’ ≥ight to info≥mation, a ≥ight that is gua≥anteed in the constitution. HRNJ-U has since app≥oached the di≥ecto≥ate of Info≥mation in the p≥ime ministe≥’s o∞ce to ≥equest that gove≥nment stops giving licences to media houses that cannot a≠o≥d p≥ofessional pay fo≥ jou≥nalists. M≥ Sempala says that o∞cials a≥e the di≥ecto≥ate ag≥ee with this view and a≥e wo≥king out ways to imp≥ove jou≥nalists’ ≥emune≥ation but fo≥ now, the b≥own envelop cultu≥e continues. Although this p≥actise is publicly ≥eviled by both the give≥s and ≥eceive≥s, expe≥ts say it one that could eventually be ve≥y ha≥d to e≥adicate. The ≥easons fo≥ its g≥owth a≥e, is you≥ sala≥y, mothe≥, fathe≥ o≥ anything else you might want of life,’” he says. M≥ Sempala explains that just like the soldie≥s used the guns to loot to p≥ovide fo≥ thei≥ families, so too do jou≥nalists take b≥ibes. He howeve≥ disag≥ees with the view that poo≥ pay is the ≥eason fo≥ b≥own envelop jou≥nalism. “B≥own envelops have become popula≥ because jou≥nalists want to change thei≥ economic status without wo≥king ha≥d fo≥ it,” he says. M≥ Ogutu points out that even Journalists at work. Freelance journalists have no social safety nets. howeve≥, dive≥gent, depending on the age of the pe≥son you speak to. Olde≥ jou≥nalists, who we≥e p≥actising befo≥e 2000, blame the cu≥≥ent c≥op of jou≥nalists fo≥ being co≥≥upt and want the fine≥ things in life to come faste≥ than they can wo≥k fo≥. In mitigation, younge≥ jou≥nalists blame the poo≥ pay in the indust≥y, blaming libe≥alisation. They fu≥the≥ a≥gues that they b≥ibes me≥ely to su≥vive. “Ove≥ 80 pe≥ cent of Uganda’s jou≥- nalists a≥e f≥eelance, meaning they a≥e likely to take b≥ibes since a sala≥y at the end of the month is not gua≥anteed,” says M≥ Sempala. The f≥eelance jou≥nalists have no social safety nets eithe≥. The likelihood that they could fall into pove≥ty in case they got too ill to wo≥k o≥ just lose thei≥ job is too high, thus making b≥ibes i≥≥esistible. M≥ Sempala adds that his o≥gani- sation conducted a ≥esea≥ch which found that some media houses pay as low as Ush1,000 ($0.4) pe≥ sto≥y. But even fo≥ those that pay at least $2 pe≥ sto≥y, the money is ≥a≥ely paid on time which means the b≥own envelops become an acceptable way to su≥vive. “It is like the Amin [fo≥me≥ p≥esi- dent Idi Amin] days when soldie≥s would be given guns and told ‘this media manage≥s whose pay is bette≥ than that of o≥dina≥y jou≥nalists take b≥ibes. And when they don’t take the b≥ibes, media manage≥s tu≥n a blind eye to jou≥nalists getting all so≥ts of b≥ibes fo≥ the sto≥ies they w≥ite. Many public ≥elations o∞ce≥s also complain about the b≥ibing cultu≥e, yet will go ahead and give “incentives” at thei≥ own media functions in exchange fo≥ positive cove≥age. Codes of conduct that p≥ohibit the taking of b≥ibes exist in media houses. The latte≥ also ≥un adve≥tisements advising the public that no payment is needed fo≥ news sto≥ies to be ca≥≥ied but M≥ Ogutu says that these same media manage≥s who a≥e supposed to enfo≥ce these codes tu≥n a blind eye when thei≥ jou≥nalists take b≥ibes.
January 27th 2014
February 10th 2014