When we toured New Vision, I think we were all pleasantly surprised at how nice the facilities were. Everything seemed very modern, and they just recently acquired a new printing press. We were shown the entire process of how the paper is created from start to finish.
Although the facilities were modern, we learned that Ugandan journalists are currently facing some tough challenges. While New Vision is partially private, the Ugandan government is the biggest shareholder. We were told that New Vision does not represent government views, but I don't see how journalists can report freely about the government and current politics if their jobs are basically controlled by the government. On the surface it appears that they can write what they want, but in the end, journalists have to be self-censoring themselves because their jobs could be on the line if they report something the government does not like.
This idea of self-censorship is also reflected in some Ugandan laws. While no one directly tells journalists what they can and cannot write, journalists know they have to be careful. Two laws, the law of sedition and the laws about interviewing terrorists, severely restrict how and what the journalists can report. Writing anything injurous to the government can earn a journalist a life sentence in prison. Journalists cannot report any interviews with known terrorist leaders, or they face the death pentalty.
Many journalists in the U.S. can face jail time for certain things, such as not revealing a source, but they would never be given the death penalty. These harsh laws and penalties in Uganda make me think that any political news is going to have a severe censor over it because journalists are so pressured and living in fear of being arrested and put to death.
These laws are a step backward for sustainable development in Uganda. Without a truly free press, Ugandans will not have the right information. We are very privaleged to have this is the U.S., and I think it is absolutely vital to keep the population informed. This seems basically like a type of political corruption in the Ugandan government, which creates a more unstable political environment throughout the country. If journalists are censored, no matter how indirect it is, Ugandans will be kept in the dark, making it easier for government officials to get away with corruption.
I also thought it was interesting to learn that 90% of the newspapers are sold on a daily basis, meaning only 10% of sales are through subscriptions. Since the newspapers depend so heavily on the daily whims of their customers, I feel like this would change the way the news is presented. Since they have so much pressure to market the papers well, I feel like the news will be presented differently. The cover story and headlines for the day determine the sales; there seems to be a direct relation between how eye-catching and interesting the newspaper is and how many papers sell. While this is still a driving factor for the media in the US, ultimately they have more security because of their subscribers. There will be less fluctuation from day to day in the US, make it a more stable industry.
If Uganda could establish a better system of subscribers, it will make the newspapers more sustainable, both for the newspaper and the population. The companies will have more reliable sales, and the population will be more informed because they will have access to the news every day without having to make a daily decision to buy a paper or not.
I think they can also broaden their sales by finding a way to make the newspaper cheaper, both in subscriptions and just buying an individual daily paper. Since so many Ugandans are poor, they have to make the choice between daily necessities and reading the news. If the news industry could find a way to decrease their costs for the consumer, it would increase access to the general population. They already have some success in access because they are printing in multiple languages. Now, they just need to find a way for Ugandans to more easily access the news through a lower cost.
How do you think the internet is affecting newspaper sales now? Will this change in the future?
How do you think that radio and television stations that are controlled by the government will affect how Ugandans can access true, uncensored news?