The Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) has rattled the media fraternity with a demand that Parliament pays monthly allowance to journalists accredited to cover its proceedings and events.
UPPA president, Mr Moses Mulondo, unexpectedly broached the subject during a press conference by Parliament Speaker, Ms Rebecca Kadaga. There is no evidence that UPPA executives discussed and agreed on the decision prior to its pronouncement last week.
This at best is a non-binding, inherently untoward opinion of an official of the 265-member association, majority being freelance journalists.
Whereas we applaud Mr Mulondo’s expedition to advance the welfare of some journalists, we roundly reject his thoughtless calculation to achieve this through a counter-productive and unethical bypass. His pitch beguiles, but the spiralling ramification for Ugandan media fraternity is self-emasculation. And we will not midwife this tragedy.
Here is why.
Journalists deployed to cover Parliament are not its employees and the duty of their remuneration should not be transferred to, or imposed on, the August House. As the Fourth Estate, the media’s venerated role is that of a watchdog. The trading currency is trust.
How will UPPA members, if paid by Parliament, do a critical reportage of its activities, or how will the public trust the journalists, to inform without bias? The House will be justified to expect favourable coverage in return for the perks.
So what is the alternative?
We restate here that most journalists, particularly freelance writers, earn far below industry standards or the worth of their skills and sweat. They work long hours for less pay and most have no or limited security or health insurance. They fight for the rights of everyone else, except their own. This is why a minimum wage would benefit all.
Journalists are beaten and suffer injuries, are teargassed and often subjected to public humiliation in the line of duty. Many have lost equipment to attackers or suffered irreparable physical damages. Their plight contrasts with the peanuts they take home.
We demand that media owners urgently and humanely tackle head-on the menace of journalists’ underpayment.
Internal schism deprives media practitioners of collective bargaining. UPPA and other umbrella organisations, alongside editors’ fora, should rally journalists to engage media proprietors, particularly the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), to discuss appalling working conditions for their editorial employees.
Some radio stations pay Shs3,000 per aired story! A journalist on such shoe-string budget is unlikely to hold power to account, is a risk to self, sources and profession. This is the real danger to media freedom in Uganda that we should immediately fix.
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