OPINION– World Press Freedom Day defines the freedom that the press should enjoy while executing their duties. The theme of this year is “Digital impact”. Have we really gone digital? Our going digital is a question at the time; its evident that most sub Saharan countries where Uganda lies are at 29% of internet penetration the most low compared to the rest of the world.
In Uganda according to the 2019 Teledensity report, Uganda had 29 million mobile phones with only 14.3 on Internet of 3 generation with a few digitally migration to the fourth generation (4G). The world is moving on a high speed with some countries on 5G now like the USA, China extra. We are still impractical of the digital revolution. Our staggered movement to digital impact as media industry is due to underlying problems like listed below.
Staggered minimum wage policy, Uganda has no minimum amount one can’t offer the service under and this gives the media industry which is 98% privately owned in Uganda a chance to exploit those in line of duty, some media personnel are either paid peanuts or not paid at all or some receive commission at the end of the month. Due to this fact of being unable to afford kinda modern equipment, the media industry is still not purposeful of the digital migration.
The existing laws; with the laws like computer misuse act which works directly with the use of digital platforms like facebook, watsup, Twitter, Instagram, online digital platforms “libel” has been lodged against so many digital platform informers in a recent case that involved the self exiled writers and poets Kakwenza Rukirabasheija, Dr Stella Nyanzi and so many more. With this, the repressive hand of the state has stretched long to the independent minded media personnel and stripped them off their press freedoms.
The Uganda police: according to the recently released report by Human rights network for journalists for the year 2021, Uganda police force has steadily remained the lead violator of press freedoms with some practitioners detained without trial or detained beyond 48 mandatory hours. Last year on the 8th Jan 2021, the Inspector General of Police Martins Okoth Ochola was quoted saying “we shall continue beating journalists and we have no apologies”!!! Such a statement from a high ranking Police officer in the force diminishes the hope of the officers under him to collectively work with the media.
Government policy ; The government doesn’t recognise the media as the fourth estate and when government clearly knows that media directly influences public opinion. The media is given attention only when the government knows that it will only be the way through which they will hit their desired target for example during the covid 19 lock downs in Uganda, its the media that kept people informed of the prevalence and progress under the restricted movement.
More or so, politicians and other government civil servants will use media to beat their expectations and thereafter run away. The desire by government to have free airtime when they need with little government spending on the largely privately owned media industry has pushed some out of business and forced other to downscale labour due to effects of covid 19.
The Ministry of Infosecurity and National guidance suffers the biggest budget cuts. When it happens and with all regulatory institutions like UCC, Uganda media council, the Ministry of Information and National guidance respectively are hardly facilitated, government workshops to train the media personnel on certain specifics as pertain their duty and almost all of the above offices are central.
Job security- Most media houses don’t guarantee their employees stay and welfare at work, they are employed on a phone call or by a mere statement with no proper documentation but because of the urge to find a job, one will find him or herself two years down the road working without any job security and this has persistently remained the biggest challenge with Uganda’s Media Industry because at his or her wish, the employer will dismiss the employee in a similar way.
Lack of modern equipment- Some media houses have no modern equipment to fit the digital standard where most of the equipment used is still on the former generations like 2 and 3Gs while the other parts of the world have moved fully to 4 or 5G which makes it sluggish for us to beat the current standards.
I finally appeal to the media house owners, government and the public to influence in addressing the above challenges. On such a press freedom day, it should not be about eats and drinks but a reflection on the challenges that media personnel face day by day in line of duty.
Happy press freedom day gallant men and women of the press.
TWEBAZE PROSPER C/PERSON
GREATER BUSHENYI MEDIA ASSOCIATION.