Speech by Nicole Bjerler- Head of DGF at Uganda National Journalism Awards 2020

Photo by Katumba Badru

Full text of the speech by Nicole Bjerler, Head of the Democratic Governance Facility- Uganda, at the 2020 Uganda National Journalism Awards 2020. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

I am very honoured to join you here at this year’s Uganda National Journalism Awards, organized by ACME with funding support from the DGF. 

I recently joined the DGF team as its Head of Facility, and this is my first event at which I am speaking in this capacity – I am very happy about this coincidence, as it resonates with my personal conviction and that of the DGF regarding the important role of journalists. Media professionals have a key role in all societies to convey objective, verified and reliable information to keep the wider public abreast of current affairs and on issues that require attention.

As journalists, you carry this important role at all times, and in particular in times of crisis, such as the one we are currently facing in view of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On World Press Freedom Day this year, the UN Secretary-General stated that “as the [COVID-19] pandemic spreads, it has also given rise to a second pandemic of misinformation, from harmful health advice to wild conspiracy theories. The press provides the antidote: verified, scientific, fact-based news and analysis.”  

So thank you for all the crucial work you do to keep us informed on COVID-19 and on all other issues of our times. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

DGF and ACME have had a long-standing partnership, starting in 2014 with a project on enhancing media reporting for transparency and accountability. The holistic media support and development program offered training fellowships, awards, provision of resources such as open data and references, support for data journalism and research. The program directly benefited close to 1,000 journalists and 200 CSO representatives in Uganda. 

The current partnership between DGF and ACME builds on gains of the previous DGF project, and specifically contributes to two main Areas of Intervention under the DGF initiative: “Improving access to information”, and “Strengthening citizens’ engagement for government accountability”. In carrying out this work, ACME’s engagement cuts across the thematic spectrum of the DGF II program.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

We are all cognizant that the news media are the fastest and biggest delivery mechanism for the information that citizens so urgently need to be empowered and to engage on matters that affect them. Online platforms have come into the mix in very significant ways. ACME and other media partners are well-positioned to play a catalytic role in the accountability chain, by equipping the media to deliver accurate, well-researched, and reliable information on public affairs. This engagement not only strengthens the media itself, but also supports the growth of an informed citizenry that is more likely to be empowered to engage with officials, to seek to advance constructively on finding solutions, and to hold duty-bearers accountable.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

As any other country, Uganda should be enjoying a vibrant and reliable media that consistently produces quality public affairs journalism which empowers citizens to engage in the country’s democratic processes. 

While the media shows vibrancy through entertaining much debate on broadcast talk shows and in the print opinion pages, more could be done to produce coverage of public affairs, including elections, in a manner that is comprehensive, in-depth, investigative, and informs and engages citizens. Stories at times contain inaccuracies and misleading bits of information and are devoid of analytical rigor and context. And many promising stories are not followed up enough to provide audiences a complete picture of developments around them and elicit a response from citizens and authorities.

More can also be done to bring out plurality of opinions and diversity of voices, including of women. ACME’s research of the print media shows that less than a quarter (23%) of people quoted in the news are women, yet they make up more than 50 per cent of the Ugandan population.  This essentially means that a large segment of the population of Uganda is barely heard in the media.  

Fact-checking remains essential, and journalists are called on to abide by the highest ethical and professional journalistic standards, as outlined by UNESCO and various professional bodies. This not only ensures accuracy and integrity of information, but also increases the standing of journalists. Politicians and media regulators often point to poor journalism to justify their push to control the media and stifle criticism, further weakening the media’s ability to operate freely and independently, and in turn hampering their ability to carry out public affairs journalism. 

Let me also emphasise the importance of journalists being able to carry out their important work without fear or favour. We must hence all do what we can to ensure the safety and protection of journalists, so that they can deliver on their crucial role and mandate. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

Today we are here to celebrate and recognize journalists and media professionals who have made particular efforts to shine a light on specific issues, and have demonstrated particular excellence in doing so. 

We are pleased that deliberate efforts have been made to widen the categories for awards to encourage not only journalists but also media consumers/citizens to widen knowledge and understanding in areas such as data journalism, explanatory reporting, and news illustration.

I wish to extend a particular recognition to the women journalists that have been nominated here. Women journalists often face specific challenges in carrying out their work. At times they are relegated to “women’s issues affairs” when they can do an equally good job also on more mainstream issues. We applaud you for your efforts and look forward to even more inclusion and participation of women in next year’s event.

With this, allow me to reiterate how honoured I am here to witness this event, and to learn more about the extraordinary work of the journalists awarded here today. 

I thank you for your attention.

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The Uganda Nationa Journalism Awards were supported by the Democratic Governance Facility.

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