Journalists are Conveyor Belts of Information. Highlights from the #SaveTheMessengerUG Campaign

Frank Oyugi Jan. 7, 2021

In December, the ICT4Advocacy Community of Practice – a collective of 14 organizations – ran the 7-day #SaveTheMessengerUg campaign. A summary by Frank Oyugi.

131356190_107843701196186_4008104767545906647_o.jpg

Media, often referred to as the fourth estate, plays a very crucial and pivotal role in the society, acting as the watchdog, interrogating those in authority to ensure transparency, Accountability and service delivery.

In Uganda, the media draws its powers and authority from chapter IV of the constitution of the republic of Uganda promulgated in1995 and as amended. Article 29 in particular enhances media freedom among a raft of freedoms such as that of thought and expression, assembly and peaceful demonstrations.

An informed media is impactful for the political, and socio-economic wellbeing of a given society. For that to happen, the media should have an efficient and adequate access to information. Such rights have been provided for in Article 41 of the constitution and further entrenched in the Access to information Act of 2005. This mandates the state to ensure journalists to access information with state and government bodies.

The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) in its 10th edition of the index, states that it documented 163 cases of violations and abuses against journalists and media houses in 2018. This is an escalation, if compared to the 117 cases registered in 2017.

New form of Journalism and the emergence of Citizen Journalism

A New Vision story of 30th March 2020, Projects that 42% of Ugandans, that is approximately a population of 10 million people actually have access to internet connection. This is a new phenomenon where literally everyone has turned into a citizen journalist, sharing information, pictures and videos on Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and other platforms, sometimes in real time and some of this information ends up on the mainstream media.

These, however, come with a pinch of salt, for instance, there is too much fake news most times on these social media platforms. Others take the form and shape of disinformation and misinformation, further complicating work of mainstream journalists.

Why The #SaveTheMessengerUg Campaign?

The ICT4Advocacy Community of Practice, a collective of 14 organizations ran the #SaveTheMessengerUG advocacy campaign with the aim of highlighting the different challenges faced by journalists in Uganda ranging from poor pay, threats and intimidation due to their work, and many other issues.

The CoP’s goal behind the campaign is to create a conversation around issues faced by journalists and other media practitioners in Uganda.  When journalists have been brutalized during political seasons, than there is a need for dialogue between media organizations and security agencies in order to find a common ground for mutual cooperation between them.

The #SaveTheMessengerUG campaign draws its strength from the digital set skills gained by CoP members following a training on utilizing social media platforms to carry digital campaigns which was conducted in September by Frank Oyugi and Ronnie Robert Omara from the Great Lakes Center for Strategic Media Studies-GLCSMS LLC.

During the campaign partner organizations shared, retweeted and commented on posts, videos and graphical campaign content shared on Facebook and Twitter.

A free media, void of censorship by both state and non-state actors, is grandiloquent for democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism, and a free and democratic society. Afrobarometer survey – Round 8 of 2019, shows that Media houses in Uganda enjoy meaningful freedom specially to publish information.

Focus Areas of the #SaveTheMessengerUG Campaign

The #SaveTheMessenger campaign focused on the following areas;

  • Legal Frameworks governing journalism practice in Uganda;
  • Objectivity & Protection of journalists during the election period;
  • Health safety in the field during COVID19;
  • Workplace safety & job security of journalists;
  • Unfair remuneration i.s salary and other benefits like NSSF;
  • Data and online journalism, mobile journalism in the digital era and,
  • Journalism contributions to upholding Human Rights and Access to information.

Outstanding Voices During the #SaveTheMessengerUg Campaign

Abbas Mpindi, CEO – Media Challenge Initiative: Journalists need to prepare to face the challenges in their work on a daily basis. They face numerous pressure both physically and mentally.

Link to Tweet: https://twitter.com/ICT4AdvocacyCOP/status/1337625849797947392

Kiiza Eron, Human Rights Lawyer: The state should create a conducive environment in which journalism can flourish and in which journalists are safe.

Link to Tweet: https://twitter.com/encryptUg/status/1338436652830777345

Gen. David Muhoozi, Chief of Defense Forces - UPDF: Following the law as it is and having partners in the media is key to strengthening the relationship between media and security agencies which has strained in recent times.

Link to Tweet: https://twitter.com/ICT4AdvocacyCOP/status/1337754685705482241

Isaac Daniel Katende, Journalist – Dembe FM/ Spark TV: Journalists have a right to perform their duties without fear of intimidation, harassment or attacks.

Link to Tweet: https://twitter.com/CanparaCollin/status/1337638852610154497

Gen. Jeje Odongo, Minister of Internal Affairs: Government agencies are willing to work with journalists and thus formed the committee that will help to protect the rights of journalists during the elections period.

Link to Tweet: https://twitter.com/Iamturyamusiima/status/1337627020621197313

Interview with Stakeholders During the #SaveTheMessenger Campaign

During the #SaveTheMessenger campaign, different stakeholders were involved through media interviews to ensure a balanced and neutral delivery of the campaign. This ensured that the campaign was not biased in any way. Below are some of the stakeholders whose views we got during the campaign

  1. Interview with Mr. Ofwono Opondo, Government Spokesperson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u1LWCd63bPM
  2. Interview with Gen. David Muhoozi, Chief of Defence Forces https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9s6P2ljzOpE
  3. Interview with Mr. Eron Kizza, Human Rights Lawyer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cRzvnUr18PU
  4. Interview with Mr. Robert Ssempala, Executive Director, Human Rights Network for Journalists. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D01kI85xJ8M
  5. Interview with Mr. Joachim Buwembo, Veteran Journalist https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ru20eMwU0jQ

To further complement and buttress the campaign, GLCSMS – a member of the ICT4Advocacy Community of Practice – authored an editorial piece questioning the stringent measures from Uganda Communications commission which seeks to constrict the space for journalists as the country heads into polls. https://glcsms.org/should-media-council-give-orders-to-media-houses-now/