Time to shine a spotlight on corrupt journalists

Musaazi Namiti

What you need to know:

  • Journalists are generally not paid well mainly because the news organisations employing them do not make money. The temptation to seek bribes can be overwhelming, although it is not justifiable. People can quit journalism and pursue careers where the pay is decent.

We have written about corruption in Uganda, but very few of us in the media put the mirror, as it were, in front of our eyes to see whether we are looking good or bad. 

Journalists in Uganda have exposed and continue to expose corruption among politicians, but are they clean? Do they earn an honest livelihood? Would they account for whatever they possess if they were required by law to do so?

I will tell you why I have my doubts. A story is told of a journalist who once went to interview a bank executive in Kampala about the bank’s ATMs that were faulty and had caused customers financial losses. 

The bank executive readily admitted that there was a problem because the journalist had incontrovertible evidence of what he was investigating.

Then the bank executive made a suggestion. He asked the journalist to abandon the story, saying (with reason) that it would hurt the bank’s business. 

As he revealed this, he lifted the phone and asked someone to bring an envelope. The journalist only understood “dollar’ and “envelope” because the bank executive, who was speaking in Hindi to the person on the other end, used those words in English.

Apparently the envelope contained a bribe that the bank executive wanted to give the journalist. 

The journalist rejected the bribe, but when he went back to the newsroom and briefed the boss on what had transpired, the boss said that the bank should give the newspaper an advert!

The journalist was stunned. He had rejected a bribe, but his boss was seeking a bribe from the bank executive in a different way.

Journalists are generally not paid well mainly because the news organisations employing them do not make money. The temptation to seek bribes can be overwhelming, although it is not justifiable. People can quit journalism and pursue careers where the pay is decent.

Incidentally, earning a decent salary does not necessarily mean that the earner will be incorruptible. 

The example this article started with shows us the boss who earned more than the journalist he was supervising was bent on taking a bribe that his underling had rejected.

Many years ago, there were complaints about freelance journalists being corrupt because they did not have regular sources of income. Over the years, it has emerged that senior journalists managing newsrooms are corrupt themselves.

The best evidence is that they have acquired property that their known sources of income would never enable them to get. In other words, they cannot properly account for their ‘wealth’.

Many journalists who run news websites do not sell news and barely get advertising revenue. Some just use their websites to make money from sources that are embroiled in conflicts and scandals.

And there is a more serious problem. We do have rotten leadership that still wants to be in power and is banking on journalists desperate to get rich to help push its agenda forward. 

Those journalists pretend to be proper professionals and even give young journalists lectures about journalism ethics, but they do not lead by example.

As one senior journalist once remarked on social media:  “I have seen and witnessed situations where some editors have sat on stories simply because they hit out at people/organisations that regularly fund them.”

He went on: “I have also seen editors chastise reporters for accepting 20K — a pittance really — as transport refund from an organisation, yet they accept gifts and gift hampers worth millions from the same organisations.”

Such hypocrisy! 

Will/can journalists start to practise what they preach?

Mr Namiti is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk

Twitter: @kazbuk

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