Journalism is under fire – freedom of expression report

Journalism across the world “is under fire”, according to a Unesco freedom of expression report.

The 2017/18 World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development report, launched at Makerere University on 14 March 2018, notes that while there is a stronger desire to seek and receive information, more restrictions on imparting information are being recorded.

While presenting the report, UNESCO’s Lydia Gachungi said the media’s credibility is being undermined through growing intolerance.

“Rise in rhetoric against the media by political figures is encouraging self-censorship and undermining the media’s credibility,” she said.

The report, which highlights global trends in freedom of expression and media development, notes that there are growing attacks on journalists and impunity for crimes against journalists remains the norm.

“Between 2012 and 2016, 530 journalists were killed, an average of two deaths per week,” the report says, adding, “92 per cent of the journalists killed are local…”

Ms Susan Eckey, the ambassador of Norway to Uganda, said journalism has become a life-threatening profession and yet “perpetrators are rarely brought to justice”.

She said that every act of violence that goes unpunished encourages further violence.

She also decried the continued under-representation of women in the media work force, in decision-making roles and in media content both as sources and subjects.

“Where is our voice in the public sphere?” Ambassador Eckey said.  “I don’t believe that women do not have opinions.”

Prof. Rune Ottosen, the representative of the Norwegian National Commission of Unesco, called for an end to impunity against journalists, and a halt to the use of anti-terrorism legislation to falsely charge and sentence journalists. “Uganda is growing less safe for journalists in general, and for those who report conflict specifically.”

The report launch was organised by Makerere University’s Department of Journalism and Communication, with support from Unesco and the Norwegian government.

The Dean, School of Languages, Literature and Communication, Prof. Aaron Mushengyezi, underscored the role of journalists in society, saying they expose ills in government, civil society and in other agencies.

Said Prof. Mushengyezi: “…even as Makerere [University], we are willing to be scrutinised by the work of the press. We are not perfect and so the work of the press is to check us and to ensure we do our work in the way it should be.”

He cautioned journalists against violating the rights of those they are supposed to protect.  “As a media training institution, we encourage the press to do its work based on the principles of natural justice because you cannot expect your rights as the press to be safeguarded when you are in turn abusing the rights of others. It is a reciprocal arrangement.”

During a panel discussion, Prof. Fredrick Jjuuko from the law school said press freedom shouldn’t be looked at as a right applicable to only the media but the general public.

“If we isolate press freedom as strictly a professional freedom, those who seek to limit it will be more attracted to limit it,” he said. “But if you express it in its comprehensiveness as a human right, then, of course, you can’t just limit it anyhow.”

Another panellist, Prof. Goretti Nassanga of the Department of Journalism and Communication, spoke to the importance of media pluralism, saying media conglomeration restricts diversity in voices and conglomerates are easy to manipulate by governments.

Said Prof. Nassanga: “…there is a case for some regulation of media ownership otherwise media is no longer serving the purpose of being a public sphere where everybody can willingly exchange ideas.”

She also encouraged journalists to demand better welfare through organised unions.

Mr. Daniel Kalinaki, the third panellist, said that while more still remains to be done, strides have been made, including increasing women representation in media operations. He cited the example of women in managerial positions in the media, such as Ms. Carol Beyanga (managing editor, digital, at Daily Monitor); Ms Barbara Kaijja (editor-in-chief of Vision Group), as well as Ms Agnes Konde (until recently the CEO of NTV Uganda). Mr Kalinaki is the general manager, content, for Nation Media Group outlets in Uganda.

Mr Meddie Mulumba, a commissioner with the Uganda Human Rights Commission, launched the report. He asked journalists to report violations against them instead of taking compensation from perpetrators and then keeping quiet.

Harriet Anena

Harriet Anena is ACME’s Special Projects Officer

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