Lira—24 October 2020: Government has commended media houses across the country for its role in helping to suppress the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) since March this year when the first case was reported.
With over 309 licensed radio stations, 40 free-to-air television stations and dozens of newspapers and magazines and online newspapers, almost all played same or different roles in informing, educating and sensitizing the population about the dangers of COVID-19.
Addressing the 3rd Annual Media Conference 2020 in Lira City on Friday, Hon. Peter Ogwang, State Minister for ICT & NG, warned media houses (owners) against undervaluing their employees; asking media owners to employ qualified and experienced editors, programs managers, and producers, among staff.
The Minister who gave the Keynote address and was delegated by State Minister of Northern Uganda, Hon. Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny to stand for her as the Chief Guest, commended Great Lakes The Centre for Strategic Media Studies (GLCSMS) and TND News, the annual conveners of the media event for inviting him and taking the lead in promoting well-being of media houses in the region.
“It is a great honour to be part of this 3rd Annual Media Conference organized by Great Lakes Centre for Strategic Media Studies (GLCSMS) and its sister online newspaper, TND News,” he says.
“Even before my appointment to the Ministry of ICT & NG, I have been very passionate about the role and growth of Uganda’s media. I remember my first interaction with journalists after being vetted by parliament, I committed to work with journalists in promoting professionalism and improving their welfare,” he continues.
On receiving the invitation, he added: “So I did not complain when I received an invite to be part of this meeting. I will always be available for anything to do with media after all it is our responsibility as the Ministry of ICT & NG.”
The Minister says globally, media or journalism plays a fundamental role to educate, inform, entertain and also do what they call Agenda setting. Indeed, one cannot begin to imagine a world without the media.
“The NRM government has provided an enabling environment for the practice and growth of journalism. Today, Uganda has 309 licensed radio stations, 40 (free to air) TV stations, dozens of newspapers and magazines and a chain of online news platforms.”
He told the meeting that there is a deliberate investment in hardware information, communication and technology infrastructure to expand the reach and bring down costs of like the internet since media is turning into the digital space.
Before the National Backbone Infrastructure, he added that government was spending USD 1,200 mbps, but now we are at 70 per mbs and our target is to reduce the cost of internet further to about 30mbps or even 10mbps.
“Government knows the importance of media and it is not by mistake that we have in place legal safeguards to protect the profession such as the Constitution of Uganda under 29 which provides for freedom of speech and expression including freedom of the press and other media. We have the Press and Journalist Act, which entirely protects the profession, sets and promote good ethical standards and discipline of journalists. Etc.”
In a bid to see an improvement of the employees’ welfare, the ICT & NG Minister says it was worth being part of the conference, where a lot of information about poor pay, no appointment letter given to journalists, other staff working for different media houses, among other bad working condition was revealed.
He says next week he will write to UCC to ask NSSF to ask media houses the number of employees per their radio station. Action will be taken, he promises.
He noted that enabling environment has given media a huge space to “thrive and as a country”, adding “we are able to appreciate the role of media towards among others informing and educating the masses”.
“Considering the political season in Uganda amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, I would like to commend Uganda’s media for their relentless role in disseminating public information.”
During this pandemic, he says, “you have really kept us informed and therefore responsibility for our state of wellbeing. One time I wrote an opinion in the New Vision lauding the role of media in fighting this virus”.
“When we suppress media, we are denying the population information and news they should receive. We should say NO to media clampdown but, I also want to urge media houses and journalists to be accurate, truthful and balanced in all their reporting on elections. Let’s protect ourselves against preventable circumstances,” Milton Emmy Akwam, GLCSMS CEO said in his speech.
“I want to state that as we head to the 2021 general polls, media is a key player. Like i said before, from March to date, media is reporting about COVID-19 and different measures put by government to contain it, and the same media is also reporting about elections, primarily,” he added.
Dr Henry G. Mwebesa, the Director General Health Services in the Ministry of Health who made a presentation on the topic “Staying safe during pandemic and post-Covid-19”, says “most likely we are going to get the vaccine by December 2020”.
He says after losing people to COVID-19, they (government) thought people would be scared, unfortunately “they don’t fear”.
Director General Health Services says they are not sure when the learners at schools will be safe from the virus.
“Indeed, if it wasn’t for media, all Ugandans would be in the casualty ward. Imagine how many Ugandans could have died of COVID-19 if there was no media? But today, we are proud as a country that we have lost only about 100 people and registered 10,000 cases whereas other countries like Spain have registered up to one million cases. Uganda now tops the rest of Africa in suppressing COVID-19,” Minister Ogwang said earlier.
This is not only attributed to practical measures by government under the stewardship of President YK Museveni, but also the role of media in sensitizing the masses.
On a special note, allow me also commend the good work that the Ministry of Health, especially the health workers has done in fighting this virus. You (health workers) are our Heroes because you put your foot where others could not step.
“Similarly, we are now in the election period and this is the time we need media like never before. Despite the challenges that may come with election related activities, I urge the media to stay focused; remain truthful, fair and balanced,” Minister Ogwang, who’s the deputy government spokesperson says.
More of his speech below
As government, we are also committed to protect the foot soldiers in the field against any form of suppression or brutality, especially in the hands of security forces. My heart bleeds when I see a police officer harassing a journalist in line of duty.
However, the journalists themselves must exhibit self-control and self-responsibility while covering elections. No government will protect your life if you are reckless with it- Your security and safety starts with you. Be smart, be able to read and react to danger. Demand for protective gears like helmet, press identification jackets from your employers for easy recognition.
But most importantly, I urge the media to be critical while reporting news, especially in this era of social media where there is a lot of misinformation and propaganda from political camps.
Reliance on citizen journalism and social media have witnessed a rise in false reporting. Now days, Journalists pick content from social media and do not bother to verify.
For example, during NRM Primaries, I saw posts on social media that I was among the ministers losing in the primaries and some news websites were publishing the same. I was shocked, yet I was winning by nearly 90% of the total vote.
So journalists should be equipped with tools to verify information or photos that circulate on social media during campaigns and elections. Tomorrow, someone will post a photo of police brutality that happened in 2015 and he claims the incident has just taken place.
Therefore, fake news is likely to increase as we enter campaigns and draw closer to elections. Candidates will manipulatively use media to seek political mileage by even blackmailing their opponents. So media should be on high alert not to be used by politicians.
I am also aware that some journalists have turned political and biased and are using their media spaces to blackmail and decampaign other candidates. Please, remain professional and in case you are conflicted, then declare your interests to your bosses.
Because of COVID-19, you are aware that government proposed a scientific mobilization strategy that utilizes mainstream media, technology and multimedia channels to minimize contact but yet enable electoral activities such as campaigning to take place. This scientific campaign was demonstrated in the Primaries and it has worked, so we expect to adopt the same in the general polls.
Therefore, I urge the media to be partial and fair while giving airtime to candidates during campaigns because I am also aware that several politicians own these media houses.
In conclusion, an election of this caliber gives the media an opportunity to generate income. This is the time to make money, but do it professionally to avoid being caught on the wrong side of the law. Government is committed to protect the media and ensure that democracy prevails through a free and fair election.