Thursday, June 6, 2013

Press in Uganda



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? 

6 comments:

  1. I think that citizens need to be educated and informed in order for a country to develop. I think that Ugandans should be informed about issues within the country, whether they have to do with the government or not. When the government has such a heavy influence on what is in the media, a lot of issues are forgone to prevent employees in the media houses from losing their jobs. I think that this can keep Ugandans from knowing the whole story about what is going on in Uganda.

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  2. Media plays a crucial role in the development of a country, as it educates the population about current events. Through this education, citizens are able to fully involve themselves in society and work for positive change. I believe the government does not have a right to shut down media houses. Rather, individual journalists should be justly reprimanded if they violate the law. I loved the candor of the media representatives we met with!

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  4. I think government should only have a small role in the media. It is important to censor what the media says and puts in their news. But I also think freedom of speech is very important because in informs the people. By giving everyone the real story without altering it to benefit one side or another people area able to make informed decisions. An educated person on the local and national news will make inform decisions that will benefit the country as a whole.

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  5. This event was perhaps one of my favorite events that we attended because the speakers were very open and "real" with us in that, they did not sugar coat the obstacles presented by the government vis. a vis. the well functioning of a free and independent media. The media functions as the facilitator of democracy by ensuring that the people have a voice and that governments remain accountable to the people. However, as the closing of the Monitor and other media outlets demonstrated, media is not as free as it exists in most other democratic countries throughout the world. If the media is not allowed to function independently and unbiasedly then it simply becomes a vessel for private interest, non representative of the popular will. Currently, Uganda has the workings for a formal democracy, however, it is clear that in practice many of these democratic policies are simply hollow words - clear from the rampant corruption that has been witnessed under the rule of Museveni and the NRM.

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  6. This is a tough issue. I understand that getting funding for really anything can be very difficult. I think it is cool that the government is in support of media, I just think they need to have less influence over it. They need to have less power. It isn't fair for them to go in and shut down a paper that they really have no involvement in. The point of media is to tell the general public about what is going on in their country. There is always going to be bias, but the people need the truth, not a skewed version of whatever the government wants to tell you to make themselves look good. Ultimately I think there need to be reforms on the laws that give government power over the media houses. They need to be refined and not have so much government involvement.

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