The role of the media is an important one when it comes to development, because people need to access unbiased information, in order to make daily decisions. On Wednesday, we got to meet with four influential journalists, from four different media houses in Uganda. On the panel we had Conan Businge, Education Editor for New Vision, Dan Muliija of Wavah Broadcasting Serice, Deo Habimana of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation and most exciting, Donn Wanyama of Monitor Publication. It was special to have a representative from the Monitor speaking to us, because The Monitor offices had been shut down recently by the government because of a letter that had been published in the newspaper, which made accusations against government officials. The police stormed Monitor offices, and demanded that they produce the original letter. The letter was submitted by a source that wished to remain anonymous, and The Monitor editors opted to honor the source’s anonymity when they ran the letter.
The question then is, why was the government able to shut down one of the leading newspapers with no warning? What we learned from the panel is that Uganda’s press is not free. Uganda has both government-funded newspapers and privately owned newspapers, but the law is able to control both. Because of the control, most publications restrain themselves from writing about certain issues, except for The Monitor. Because of their lack of censorship, The Monitor has been labeled as an anti-government/ opposition newspaper. Mr. Wanyama explained that this was unfortunate because all that they try to do is bring an alternative side of the story to the people of Uganda.
The common trend that the panelists were optimistic about was the role of social media. Even those presenters who worked for government owned media houses acknowledged the need of un-influenced, unbiased journalism. Unfortunately the journalists in Uganda have to practice self-censorship, because they have a lot of different influencing factors on what they can post. Some of those factors include, advertisers, government, and sensibility to the different ethnic groups that are represented in all regions of Uganda.
In Uganda there is a law that allows the Ugandan government to shut down any media outlet during an investigation. Under this law, the government is allowed to investigate anything that they feel is broadcasted against public interest.
There are about 52 different languages that are spoken in the country, and the media houses have to make sure that their television stations, radio stations, and newspapers are accommodating and reaching everyone equally, while staying within the public interest. The Uganda Broadcasting Corporation is the most regulated of these media houses. They broadcast in all of the languages, and have radio stations all over the country. UBC is completely funded by the government; therefore, they must always get government permission before running any story or program. The programs that UBC focuses on are mainly to educate the public, running a lot of public service announcements in regards to the health and education of the Ugandan people.
New Vision also partially funded by the government, is the leading newspaper and is run under Vision Group. Vision Group also has TV stations, and newspapers in different languages, though not to the extent that UBC does.
Although the press is still regulated heavily by the government, the presenters on this forum were very optimistic to the fact that social media will help bring more freedom to the press, because it is hard to control what goes on the web.
Students: Do you think government should have an influence on how journalists report? What is the role of the media in a developing country?