Private media players and the government have launched a new shot at professionalization and regulation of the media, with the launch of the Uganda Media Sector Working Group, UMSWG.
The initiative, which is a joint effort between the leaders of private media organizations and government agencies, is aimed at among others streamlining the roles and responsibilities of either side in carrying out their duties.
It is expected that the UMSWG will foster harmony between the media and state agencies, and offer redress for private persons aggrieved by the media. There have been clashes between the media and state agencies, especially security, with each side accusing the other of interfering in its duties, and without any framework to resolve the issues, the two have increasingly appeared to be on opposing sides in conflicts.
“UMSWG was formally initiated in May 2020, as a multi-stakeholder platform to create dialogue within the media industry and to address protracted issues that bedevil it,” says the Africa Center for Media Excellence.
“These include diminishing professionalism, media freedom and accountability to the public, ineffective regulation and out-of-date legal framework, growing personal risks to journalism practitioners, and challenging economic environment.”
Dr. George Lugalambi, a founder member is hopeful that this will enable amicable resolution of conflicts with the government, especially regarding the laws. “The lack of self-organization has made it very difficult to have a constructive dialogue around media regulation in Uganda,” he said.
The platform is also an attempt to bring the highly uncoordinated Ugandan media to have a uniform voice, which would make it easy to present issues to the government. The recognized voice of the media in Uganda is the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda, NIJU, complete with a Code of Ethics.
However, this has hardly been recognized by the media fraternity, with journalists preferring to form various associations without affiliation to NIJU. The Minister for ICT and National Guidance, Judith Nabakooba says the distrust between the industry and the government failed the operations of NIJU.
UMSWG is expected to initiate new roles and support long-standing efforts to build a media industry that is more professional, accountable, and trusted by the public. This will enhance citizens’ rights and the media’s role in the development of Uganda.
While Minister Nabakooba welcomes the platform, she appealed to the stakeholders to keep in mind the changing landscape of the industry, especially the growing online and mobile phone powered journalism. She says this is pausing new challenges to both the regulators and the regulated ‘legacy’ media.
On the other hand, there were also calls on the media to protect the public that might be affected by what they write about, so that no one’s rights are violated.
The Chairman of the Uganda Media Council, Paulo Echoku insists that there must be adequate control of the media, much as there is a duty to protect the media when they are covering events, as well as protecting the person being covered.
The New Vision Chief News Editor, Barbara Kaija said the media is oftentimes misunderstood by both the state and the government when conducting its professional duties. She says the public should be able to make inquiries into the works that the media does.
“The public should be given an opportunity to tell us where we have wronged them. The conversation on media ethics should be expanded to involve the public.
We need Ugandans to tell us where we have wronged them,” she said. Echoku said that unfortunately, the media views the council as centre of punishment for the media, yet it encourages dialogue and amicable solutions to issues.
The media owners also gave their support to the initiative, hoping that it will help iron out various issues between the media and the state, especially since most of them are a result of disagreement on regulation.
The Vice-Chairman of the National Broadcaster Association, Innocent Nahabwe said there is a fight to have a free and conducive environment to operate in.
He says there are already initiatives ongoing to create harmony and trust between the media and the security sector, as well as general improvement of the working conditions of journalists.