A Portrait of Ugandan journalists in turbulent times

African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has released the first-ever national journalists’ survey report. This inaugural paints a portrait of a typical Ugandan journalist. 

The survey suggests that the typical Ugandan journalist is male, below 35 years, has less than 10 years of experience on the job, isn’t specialised in covering one or two beats, and earns not more than Shs1,000,000 ($280) per month.

Most Ugandan journalists are more educated today than ever before, and a good number have received specialised training in journalism and mass communication or such media-related fields. They have embraced social media not only for personal networking but also to connect with sources, peers, and audiences. Besides the journalists also use social media to share their content.

Low pay, poor working conditions, precarious job security as well as threats to journalistic freedom all combine to contribute to high occupational mobility within Ugandan newsrooms. The high attrition rate has left behind young newsrooms. The inexperience of journalists in many newsrooms directly affects the quality of the journalism they deliver.

Ugandan journalists embrace several controversial ethical practices such as accepting money from sources, paying for confidential information, claiming to be somebody else, using hidden cameras as well as working for private companies outside the media sector while continuing to work as a journalist. The justification cited for these practices tend to revolve around poor pay as well as lack of access to information.

ACME Board Chairperson, Susan Nsibirwa and Research Lead, Dr Gerald Walulya launch the report on the sidelines of the Uganda National Journalism Awards. Photo by Zahara Abdul | UNICEF

Most Ugandan journalists appear to see themselves as information disseminators, interpreters, advocates, activists, and watchdogs. They embrace the role of providing information and analysis, but also highly value the importance of holding power to account. Ugandan journalists also don’t see themselves as dispassionate observers but rather citizen activists who have a responsibility to mobilise people to action and support national development and social change.

Most respondents reported to have a fair amount of professional autonomy, but they lived in fear of being arrested or detained over their work. The police remain the biggest source of threats to journalists, followed by government officials. Media owners who value the bottom line or political considerations more than the public interest mission of journalism are also a major influence on the content that Ugandan journalists produce.

If the number of strong media houses that can invest in journalists and good content remains limited, the quality of Ugandan journalism will continue to suffer. While there are some journalists who stand out of the crowd and can cover powerful and impactful stories, many are not able to rise above the limitations within their newsrooms and the perilous political environment within which they work.

Download or read the report below.

National Journalists Survey – Report for Web upload

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