New study finds majority support for media self-regulation in Uganda

PHOTO: Makerere journalism lecturer, Adolf Mbaine, presenting the study results.

A study on media self-regulation in Uganda has shown that there is broad support for non-State regulation of the media. More than 60 percent of those interviewed for the study back the creation of a mechanism through which the media would be self-governed.

Presenting the preliminary research findings yesterday, Mr Adolf Mbaine, a journalism lecturer at Makerere University, said that many journalists and members of the public are dissatisfied with the current statutory regulation of the media. Their reasons include rules characterised by censorship and intimidation, poor management of statutory processes and undue political influence.

The study, led by the African Centre for Media and funded by the U.S. Mission in Uganda, is aimed at establishing a media self-regulating mechanism in the country. Preliminary findings of the study were presented as part of celebrations to mark World Press Freedom Day, held every May 3.

Mr Mbaine, who is also the chair of the study’s technical working group, said media self-regulation would address professionalism and journalism ethics, but also because “statutory regulation isn’t the best.” He said past efforts at self-regulation failed because “media houses didn’t support it beyond wishing it well” thus the need for a renewed effort.

In reaction to the findings, Dr Donald Rukare, Freedom House Chief of Party in Uganda, said that unlike lawyers and medical practitioners, journalists don’t have an umbrella body. He noted that this will make it difficult to enforce self-regulation.

“Do we have a sense of how many journalists are in Uganda? Self-regulation for who?” he asked.

Ms Rose Mary Kemigsha, Senior Human Rights Officer at the Uganda Human Rights Commission, said media regulation should aim to facilitate the enjoyment of media freedom and also to protect the rights of public.

Kemigisha added: “As a commission, we are always emphasising that media freedom is not just for the press, but for everyone, because it is guaranteed in the Constitution.”

On the other hand, Mr Onapito Ekomoloit, the Corporate Affairs Manager at Nile Breweries, and former editor and media manager, said the Ugandan public is to blame for some of the excesses against the media.

He said when Daily Monitor, Red Pepper and NTV Uganda were closed by government, there was no demonstrations by the public. He said the Uganda society is “the unstated enemy of media freedom” and has “economically stifled the media” by failing to consume media in a manner that would make it get income. This, he said, makes it easy for journalists to be compromised.

“The public are both victims and perpetrators of lack of media freedom,” Onapito said.

Other findings from the study show that journalists are unaware of the rules guiding statutory media regulation. A number of them assumed that the Uganda Communications Commission, whose primary mandate is to regulate telecommunications, postal and data communication and broadcasting, is the State-appointed media regulator. A couple of journalists interviewed also did not seem to understand what statutory regulation means and how it is applied.

Nonetheless there was consensus among the journalists for the need for regulation, and a countrywide discussion on how this world be applied.

To inform the study, a public perception survey was carried out in Kampala, Masaka, Mbarara, Kabale, Fort Portal, Masindi, Mbale, Jinja, Gulu and Arua. In-depth interviews with journalists, focus group discussions and document analysis were also conducted.

Dr William Tayeebwa, the head of the Department of Journalism and Communication at Makerere University, said the university would continue to update the curriculum to address emerging issues in the industry such as journalism safety and security, ethics, gender and regulation.

In his closing remarks, the spokesperson for the US Embassy in Kampala, Mr Philip Dimon, said “press freedom is headed in the wrong direction” in Uganda.

He noted that actions by Uganda Communications Commission to close radio stations, sometimes for unclear reasons, “is troubling and a hindrance to good journalism”.

Dimon said that the U.S. Embassy would continue to speak out when they see infringements against press freedom and he urged the public to do the same.

The study concludes, in part, that there is need for greater and better self-organising by journalists and all media workers if effective self-regulation is to be realised.

The dialogue was organised by ACME in partnership with Makerere University and supported by Uganda Human Rights Commission, Freedom House, Uganda Journalists Association, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner, USAID, among others.

It followed an early morning World Press Freedom Day march through Kampala, led by the Speaker of Parliament, Ms Rebecca Kadaga.

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