Uganda launches new media sector working group

ICT Minister Judith Nabakooba signs off the principles of Uganda Media Sector Working Group during its launch in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO | STEPHEN OTAGE

What you need to know:

  • The new body which was launched by ICT and National Guidance Minister Judith Nabakooba seeks to promote dialogue and coordinated measures needed to create and monitor the frameworks and mechanisms for effective regulation, reform, and development of the media industry.

Media industry players yesterday formed a new body called “Uganda Media Sector Working Group (UMSWG)”, a private sector-led platform that seeks among other things to promote a bottom-up approach to media development in the country.

The new body which was launched by ICT and National Guidance Minister Judith Nabakooba seeks to promote dialogue and coordinated measures needed to create and monitor the frameworks and mechanisms for effective regulation, reform, and development of the media industry.

The sector group comprises media houses, professional media and industry associations/organisations, policy and regulatory agencies, media development and support organisations and interest groups, civil society, academic institutions and security agencies.

A communique from the sector group indicated that the ultimate aim of the working sector group is to enhance citizens’ rights and the media’s effective role in the development of Uganda.

“The media is critically important as an enabler of citizens’ freedom of expression and the right to information as well as a facilitator for the realisation of other rights,” the communique reads in part.

“The UMSWG will initiate new and support long-standing efforts to build a media industry that is more professional, accountable, and trusted by the public. This will in turn invite constructive government interventions and will result in the media more effectively discharging its role in the democratisation and development of Uganda.”

Ms Nabakooba applauded the private sector for coming up with the media sector working group and reiterated that “the body will offer the needed platform to work with,” adding that earlier attempts to create such platforms were met by resistance because media players did not trust government.

“When the National Institute of Journalists Uganda (NIJU) was created, it was not welcome because people thought it was a government institution. I am now happy that all the private sector have sat down and formed the media sector working group,” the minister said.

Minister Nabakooba said the media plays a critical role in the development of the nation and that they must be properly organized if they are to play their duties.

Nabakooba however, challenged the sector working group to provide leadership to the media houses and pledged government commitment in working together with the sector.

“This new platform should provide solutions and leadership to the media. My ministry is committed to working with the group to support media development in the country,” she said.

Sticky issues
Much of the discussions yesterday alternated around the continued low pay and poor working  journalist, harsh legal regimes and a number of other issues that affect the operations of the media in the country.

Nabakooba tasked the media sector working group to make proposals and recommendations to the media owners to improve the welfare of journalists across the country.

“This group should write and come up with communication to the media owners on the welfare of the journalists because they are lowly paid,” she said.

On the issue of regulating the media, Nabakooba said the ministry will always play it role of regulating the sector to ensure that professionalism prevails. She said government has made commitment to ensure press freedom and it will stand by its commitment.

Julius Mucunguzi, Advisor and head of communications at the Office of Prime Minister said the issue of media should not be looked in isolation, but from a bigger point of view. He said different las targeting media operations are looked at in isolation instead of addressing the bigger issues.

“We have not been realistic in looking at the media landscape, but look at issues in small strands,” he said.
He defended the harsh media laws and said they are enacted to protect both the media practitioners and the recipients of the information.

“The regulations we put in place is actually to the best interests of those who impart information and those who receive it,” he said.

A number of participants took issues with the regulatory bodies for acting harshly towards journalists, when they seem to be on the wrong. They particularly took issues with UCC and MCU for summoning journalists with biased minds when ordered to appear before them.

Mr Robert Ssempala, the Executive Director of Human Rights Network for Journalists said government has deliberately failed to come up media tribunal to address the issues where media practitioners have complaints. He said both UCC and MCU are more on harassing journalists than actually helping media industry to develop.

Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of the government owned Uganda media centre said however much media practitioners complain, they will not escape from regulations. He said it is the responsibility of government to regulate operations of all sectors across the country.

“I don’t think you can successfully run away from state regulations. If we are going to be professional, we must accept state regulations to reach there,” Ofwono said.

Abudu-Sallam Waiswa, the head of legal service at Uganda Communications Commission said while the commission has done a commendable job in regulating the sector, it is always bashed by different people if it acts tough on journalists who have committed offences.

He said a number of civil society organisations are always busy looking for faults with the commission with intention to sue.

“There are so many NGOs that always look for what the commission does. When UCC does something good, they keep quiet, but when it calls on errant journalists to order, it becomes the biggest news,” he said.

Waiswa said a number of them have lost cases against the commission, which he said should act as a warning that the commission will continue with its mandate.

Vincent Bagiire, the permanent secretary of ministry of ICT and the national guidance said government will closely work with the sector to develop the media industry.

“If we are to have a vibrant media, we must understand each other. Government interest in media is not for controlling but for regulation. As a ministry, we are committed to support the council and I urge you not to be skeptical but embrace this group for betterment of our media,” he said.
 
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