Take Atuhaire’s fears of danger seriously

Emilly Comfort Maractho

What you need to know:

  • Ms Atuhaire made her claim public that she feels threatened. Some people have not taken her claims seriously. Instead, they have turned the gun on her, making counter claims, that she is looking for NGO money, and portraying her as an angry journalist Ms Among denied a job request. They have gone further to suggest that Ms Atuhaire is looking for cheap fame, ‘being the story’ rather than telling the story.

It has been reported that journalist Agather Atuhaire of Civic Space Television is concerned about her safety. She believes that her life is in danger following her role in the story of the procurement of luxury cars for Speaker Anita Among and her deputy Thomas Tayebwa.

Ms Atuhaire made her claim public that she feels threatened. Some people have not taken her claims seriously. Instead, they have turned the gun on her, making counter claims, that she is looking for NGO money, and portraying her as an angry journalist Ms Among denied a job request. They have gone further to suggest that Ms Atuhaire is looking for cheap fame, ‘being the story’ rather than telling the story.

I recently had a conversation with Ms Atuhaire, and there is nothing to be ridiculed.

As researchers on gender and media, many of us have been occupied with the question of where are women in the newsroom? We acknowledge that many women have been trained, but few end up in the newsroom or stay for long as their male counterparts. Many global reports have cited the gender gap in the newsroom as serious, a fact that has also affected the portrayal of women in media.

Being sidelined as a journalist or ridiculed for poor pay is one of the reasons women leave the newsroom. Eventually, maybe all journalists will leave the newsroom and there will be no credible news story anywhere, for variety of reasons. In the meantime, we should be concerned about women leaving and protect the few that continue to hold fort. All the training we have done, goes to naught, if we just watch this trend. There will be no way of getting gender balanced stories, if women are not part of telling that story.

There are many reasons why we need to protect the few female journalists who are still in the trade. We have regrettably lost too many good female journalists, because of the toxic environment in media houses and intimidation by those in power. It may seem, it is easier to drive women away when they tell critical stories.

We do know that female and male journalists are essential in telling a balanced story and increasing women’s voices in media products everywhere. Women who venture into reporting politics, mostly a preserve of male reporters, should be protected.

For all the years I have done research on Uganda’s media landscape, I have been told that there are people, you never write a negative story about or you are in deep trouble. Journalists know them by name. Thankfully, they have been few.

The consequence is that journalists will only be comfortable reporting about good looks and beautiful dresses. While it is good to focus on the ‘looks’ of female leaders, the risk is that their goodness at the job will be terribly diminished. And that will not be a good thing for all.

It will be even more regrettable, if the institution of Parliament seeks to become opaque to journalists that its actions must not be on the spotlight. As an institution mandated to play an oversight role, it cannot afford being opaque. In fact, journalists support Parliament in exposing the overreach of the Executive. Even then, it will not be possible to succeed at being opaque, even if most journalists refrain from critical reporting, because the nature of power has changed.

Our leaders need to know that their actions will be scrutinised. Some will spur anger and resentment, some will be praised. And leaders have to learn to leave with that, especially if constructive and seek redress like all others, if unfairly so.

Increasingly, no leader can successfully punish everyone who says something they do not like, not even in a convoluted media space like Uganda’s, where problems with journalism reduces many to reporting on events without asking questions of claims that leaders make.

There is an entire army of good journalists turned public relations professionals employed to make Parliament and its principals look good at the expense of tax payers. Journalists can do better and report on their work, asking the right questions and making sense of what is going on.

Media Council of Uganda needs to take interest in cases of safety of journalists who find themselves in trouble for doing their job well.  As media employers do their part to ensure better working conditions that can attract women into newsrooms, the external environment needs to be supportive too.

Ms Maractho (PhD) is the director of Africa Policy Centre and senior lecturer at Uganda Christian University.                       [email protected]

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