The life and times of a Ugandan Journalist

Bobi Wine speaks to journalists
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• They are among the lest paid-some earn 300,000 monthly

• Some female journalists are sexually abused

• They manufacture stories to earn extra money

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• Pay them to have your story published

By Joseph Mukasa

Journalists keep us updated by reporting about what is going on anywhere, anytime. They report about the injustices going on in the society, they feed the population with all information including news from risky places like war zones among others.

However, according to the African Media Barometer 2016 report, published by Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, on a whole, journalists in Uganda urgently need a bailout similar to that of the distressed companies. Below are some of the salient findings of the report.

Journalists in Uganda are among the least paid. The salary levels vary from one media establishment to the next, but in general, radio journalists get paid the lowest.

At most radio stations “salaries depend on negotiation, the level of seniority, experience, and so forth.” At Unity Radio, which is considered one of the best paying radio stations in its region in the north of Uganda, reporters earn between 350,000 (USD104) and 500,000 shillings (USD149), deputy editors earn in the vicinity of 850,000 (USD252), and senior editors earn around 1.2 million shillings (USD356).

However, the report says, these salaries are “deceptive because most reporters are freelancers, who, on average, probably get USD100 (about Ugx. 300,000) per month. Or Ugx. 6,000 per story.

But, that is not all; some media houses – particularly radio – media professionals can go for months without being paid.

At UBC, entry level media practitioners start out at about 700,000 Ugandan shillings (USD208) and management are paid depending on how they were hired and how they negotiate their salaries and perks.

However, independent research carried out by Newz Post reveals majority reporters at UBC are freelancers and thus depend on facilitation from event organizers.

READ: Bukedde Newspaper copy sales plummets, loses 10,000 copies in a couple of months

At New Vision, entry level journalists start at Ugx. 700,000 Ugandan shillings (USD208)

Journalists in Uganda also work in unfavorable Conditions. The conditions set to ensure journalists’ safety differ from one media house to another, with some providing insurance coverage to their staff, while others leave them to fend for themselves.

The majority of media establishments can’t afford legal representation for their journalists if they are arrested”, and rely on litigation assistance from NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and legal aid workers, or from activist lawyers who provide pro- bono advice.”

READ: How New Vision frustrated Daily Monitor’s plan to launch a Luganda Newspaper

The report quotes one journalist as saying: “Radio stations, especially, leave you to battle it out on your own. They don’t have the capacity to hire and facilitate lawyers because it’s a high level thing, and to take money and invest it in a legal battle is a waste for them. So they leave you to battle it out on your own.”

Otherwise, when most journalists get problems a Facebook group run by ACME called ‘Ugandan Journalists’, with about 600 group members is currently the primary place to ask for help, mobilise funds for injured journalists and to mobilise action on media issues.

However, regional and district associations are much more active and effective. Examples include the West Nile media club, the Northern Uganda media club, LUJA, and others, which “are very strong and vibrant. In cases where a journalist is sick or dies, they mobilise funds to help the bereaved family. And if there is an arrest, they swing into action to condemn it’’

To make matters worse, the 84 page report reveals that Ugandan female journalists face sexual harassment on the job, and protecting them from is difficult.

“They are constantly harassed, and with the imbalance with respect to money and power, some of these guys try to get female staff under their payroll and to do other favours to influence the stories.”

Survival tricks

The report says the low salaries of freelancers and reporters have had great effect on the editorial standards and integrity because “if you’re paying a freelancer 6,000 shillings (USD1.80) for a story, or Ugx. 30,000 shillings (USD8.90) for a feature, the story may be more valuable to them unwritten and unexplored depending on how they are paid.

If the person who the story is on offers to pay them Ugx. 03 million shillings (USD 893) to not write the story, or to change the angle, this affects the professional standard.

In some cases, freelancers/ reporters have been known to double up as both a reporter and a salesperson. The story is exchanged for an advert.

To have your story published, some journalists demand for “facilitation” or “transport” and so forth in order to cover a story. Indeed many organizations have put aside budget for facilitating journalists.

The report says: a panelist from civil society noted that, “Most NGOs and civil society organizations have budgets for public relations, and when they (media practitioners) come, we arrange eats and drinks, and may support them with a transport fee,’’

Another panelist added that, “We have had situations where we’ve told them that we don’t pay facilitation fees, but then no one turns up.”
The report adds: There is a range in terms of what is paid. The more you pay, the greater the chances are that your story will be run.

This problem is not unique to the media industry, and is a reflection of what is happening in broader society.

“We have a problem in this country with regards to facilitation. It’s not secluded to journalism. If you have any meeting, people are Signing for transport refunds.

‘‘But it’s also true that there are journalists asking for it.” The report says.

New Vision and the Monitor have published notices making it clear that stories should be run free of charge, and calling on the public to call them if journalists ask for money when carrying out their job, “We have zero tolerance for this, so where it happens, we sack them.’’ However, some companies are aware of low salaries paid to journalists, as thus they don’t see any problem giving something small

Manufacturing stories

Beyond the ‘facilitation fee’ issue, there are incidences where reporters have threatened to leak a story if they are not paid a bribe. “We hear that if you have a potentially salacious or scandalous story, you could get a phone call that ‘we have this story about you, and if you do abcd, we can change it or not publish it’.”

Panelists told authors of the report that certain tabloids, “Manufacture the stories, and then try to extort money from you, or otherwise hang you out to dry with completely false news.”

Despite the concerns noted, the report says, generally the Ugandan media is still trusted to a large extent, though this often depends on which media house is being referred to. There are good journalists that have done very well and reported well without taking money.

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