REPORT: Responding to threats to press freedom and the media in a time of crisis in Uganda

The COVID-19 Pandemic has caused unprecedented economic challenges globally across various sectors, including the media. It has ravaged the business world, leading to the crushing of stock markets, and the closure of businesses and left the global economy on the verge of an economic depression. Globally, the pandemic has caused significant economic damage to all newsrooms.

A report by the international centre for journalists (ICFJ) noted that the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 was a top concern for most media industry employees, with three in four respondents saying that their first priority during the pandemic was the survival of their publication.

The report further noted that almost four in five respondents with access to information about their newsroom’s finances reported at least a 50% decline in revenue. COVID-19 poses an existential threat to a media industry that was already under stress from the disruption unleashed by the digital revolution and the rise of social media as a major source of news for millions of people.

Rapidly falling newspaper circulation exacerbated by government restrictions on movement in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the substantial dip in advertising revenue caused by the significant slowdown in economic activity has left media houses on their knees.

During the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, traditional media have been particularly under threat with sales of newspapers and advertising revenue for the media significantly dropping due to effects of an extended lockdown.

This has forced some media houses to restructure their organisations or even close business. For instance, in the first five months of the pandemic,

Uganda’s biggest media group, Vision Group closed three regional newspapers, published in local languages and laid off staff who were working for these publications. These newspapers included Orumuri, Etop, and Rupiny. Another privately-owned weekly, The Observer was also forced to suspend its operations.

Apart from the closure of some media outlets, media organizations in Uganda have also had to lay off some staff as well as make salary cuts on the remaining staff. In Uganda, the Vision Group announced pay cuts of up to 60% for some employees. Its competitor, the Nation Media Group also announced salary reductions of up to 35% for its staff.

Responding to threats to press freedom and the media in a time of crisis in Uganda

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