EU cautions journalists on integrity, neutrality

Left tom right: Journalists Tracy Kansiime Tendo, Patricia Litho, Tabu Butagira and Canary Mugume at the 30th anniversary celebrations of the World Press Freedom Day on May 31, 2023. PHOTO/ COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Journalists are tasked to know how to navigate their personal inclinations and perceptions towards politics.

The European Union envoy to Uganda has called upon media houses and journalists to observe the ethical principles such as neutrality and integrity, when covering stories. 

Mr Guillaume Chartrain, the deputy EU ambassador, made the remarks while speaking at the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of World Press Freedom Day yesterday.

“It is of utmost importance to ensure that your articles uphold the integrity and neutrality that form the bedrock of the moral contract between you and your readers,” Mr Chartrain said.

He added that journalists should know how to navigate their personal inclinations and perceptions towards politics.

The EU envoy also urged the government to end the difficult conditions in which many journalists and media houses operate, saying: “I cannot ignore the different reports produced on the state of freedom of press and expression that continue enumerating a series of challenges regarding the media environment in Uganda.’’

The event was marked under the theme “journalists’ neutrality and political engagement’’.

The keynote speaker, Mr Andrew Mujuni Mwenda, a veteran journalist, said achieving neutrality is a tough terrain to navigate.

Neutrality, he said, does not mean one does not have a stand, but rather we must strive to maintain a set of values and norms.

“Journalists in a polarised environment have to hold a set of morals and values that they defend no matter what they do,” he said.

The moderator, Ms Agather Atuhaire, asked Mr Mwenda if his close relationship with the first family does not affect his objectivity in reporting.

Mr Mwenda said it is normal for a journalist to create such relationships because the same people are news makers.

To be able to get information from them, he said one has to build trust and that is what he has done even with several Opposition leaders such as Dr Kizza Besigye, whom he revealed that he had slept at his home countless times.

“Failure to have these kinds of relationships will make media houses and journalists settle for press release stories and not investigative pieces,’’ he said.

Mr Canary Mugume, a journalist with NBS, said: “It is important that we continue to cultivate these relationships [with top leaders] because if we don’t, how will information come out?”
He added that truthfulness is also an important aspect of journalism. 

Similarly, Ms Atuhaire, who is also a recent winner of the EU Human Rights Award, said: “The role of a journalist is to be truthful.” Neutrality, she said, may not be achievable [at times], but objectivity must be achieved. 

Ms Tracy Kansiime Tendo, a multimedia journalist with the Media Challenge Initiative, asked journalists to make their stand clear.

She attributed the lack of neutrality among journalists to the education system.
Ms Tendo asked the Uganda Communications Commission, the media regulator, to champion neutrality among media houses.

On the plight of journalists, Mr Tabu Butagira, the Managing Editor for Nation Media Group-Uganda, said 80 percent or more of journalists in the country are being exploited.

“Many [journalists] are not being paid. Some are paid as low as 3,000 per story. That is extreme exploitation. How do you expect them to survive? No one is talking about this,’’ he said.

On commercial interests, he said: “If you are running a business [as a manager], you must generate the money. Therefore, you must balance your interests and be objective.’’
Ms Patricia Kevine Litho, the board chair of Uganda Media Women’s Association, blamed the growing use of anonymous sources on limiting neutrality in newsrooms.

She alleged that journalists many times want to embed their opinions in stories and the only way they can do that is to use an anonymous source.

“I have acquired new insights on journalists’ neutrality and political engagement,’’ she later tweeted.