Remarks by the EU Ambassador at the Uganda National Journalism Awards

Remarks by H E Mr Jan Sadek
Ambassador of the European Union to the Republic of Uganda
30th August 2023 at Sheraton Hotel, Kampala

Minister of ICT and National Guidance, Hon. Chris Baryomunsi,
Chairperson of the Media Council of Uganda, Mr. Paulo Ekochu,
Media house owners and editors here present,
Journalists and in particular the finalists for tonight’s awards,
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

Good evening.

It’s a great honour for me to have been asked to say a few words at this prestigious event, which is the wonderful annual celebration of Uganda’s finest journalists.

First and foremost, allow me to express my thanks to the African Center for Media Excellence for organising this event. ACME has consistently championed excellence in journalism and played a pivotal role in fostering a vibrant and free press in Uganda. We commend your dedication and unwavering commitment to upholding the values of transparency, accountability, and integrity in journalism.

When I met with ACME’s director Dr George Lugalambi to discuss this event a few weeks ago, I was pleased to learn that the awards focus on a wide range of topics which are all central in Uganda’s development path.

What strikes me most about the impressive list of journalistic content by tonight’s finalists is that journalism is not just about the big headlines; it’s also about the details of an issue and the individual stories that illuminate them. In this way, you as journalists give a voice to the voiceless, shining a light on stories of resilience, hope, and human spirit. They remind us of our shared humanity, connecting us across borders and cultures.

A robust media sector is critical for our societies. It fosters good governance and transparency. It empowers citizens to participate actively in their communities and advocate for change. A strong media sector is a cornerstone of development and one of the pillars of any democratic society.

The 15 categories in this year’s Uganda National Journalism Awards include a focus on the environment, business, public accountability, agriculture, the economy and arts & culture. These are also areas of top priority for the European Union’s partnership with Uganda. Over the coming years, the EU plans to provide some 600 million EURO in funding to projects focused on the green and climate transition; sustainable jobs and growth; and governance and social inclusion.

We will do our utmost to keep the media fraternity in Uganda in the loop about our activities, knowing that transparency leads to better results. In addition, the media plays a critical role in promoting accountability in the usage of public and development funding. We all need to put our shoulder to the wheel to make sure public funds are spent properly and the EU welcomes the Ugandan media’s continued involvement in these efforts.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Over the course of many years, the EU has invested heavily in supporting capacity building of Ugandan journalists. In one recent EU-funded project, ACME trained and mentored more than 150 journalists in investigative journalism and in-depth reporting on public affairs. We believe this kind of in-depth reporting on issues of vital public importance is critical to fight corruption, improve service delivery and sustainable development.

At the EU, we also know very well that much of this work had been supported by the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), which unfortunately had to close. I want to assure you that the EU remains committed to supporting independent media, access to information and quality journalism. In this light we will retain a focus on these issues as we develop new programmes in the area of democratic governance.

Of course, even leaving aside EU funding for training and other activities, the question of sustainability for media houses remains a central concern for journalists everywhere. With the rise of internet and social media advertising, old funding models have been thrown out the window and media houses face the existential challenge of coming up with new funding models to sustain their operations. Diversifying revenue streams, driving innovation and remaining agile in a digital world are some ways media houses are adapting to this new context.

And then there is the arrival of Artificial Intelligence, which as we know is having a profound effect on all sectors of the economy and society. While I’m grateful to be here tonight, I am slightly worried that I might have to compete with a robot ambassador in the near future! I can however assure you that my speech is not written by ChatGPT…

But on a serious note, this AI transformation brings both opportunities and challenges. The power of AI can help journalists analyse data more efficiently and uncover hidden stories. It is already being used by newsrooms for content creation, distribution, fact-checking and workflow automation, audience engagement and data analysis. It can also personalise news, ensuring that readers receive content that matters most to them.

However, we must remain vigilant to ensure that AI doesn’t compromise the integrity and objectivity of journalism. In this regard, regulation of AI is key. For the EU, we have recognised the significant opportunities and challenges brought by AI and our institutions are now actively working to agree the Artificial Intelligence Act by the end of 2023.

The aim of that act is to make sure that AI systems used in the EU are safe, transparent, traceable, non-discriminatory and environmentally friendly. AI systems should be overseen by people, rather than by automation, to prevent harmful outcomes. This new law seeks to ensure that we can harness the opportunities brought by AI while properly managing the risks it poses.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Awards like the ones we will announce tonight are a great way of rewarding and incentivising people – particularly young people – to get involved in journalism. The awards can also do a lot to promote gender equality in the media sector. Uganda’s media sector continues to be male dominated, although progress is being made. According to a 2022 study by Uganda Media Women’s Association, representation of women in broadcast and print media has increased from 24% to 28%. This positive trajectory is reflected in this event and it is encouraging to see that one third of this year’s finalists are women.

I hope that this trend continues as we know the importance of media balance – more women in journalism means a greater balance of stories covered in the media. In this way, the media can become an important channel for the empowerment of all women and girls in Uganda.

I also need to recognise the commitment of all the journalists in this room to a profession which carries risks, including to physical safety and mental health. In all corners of the world reporters are being targeted in alarming numbers. According to the International Federation of Journalists 67 journalists were killed last year alone. In Europe we are normally spared from such acts, but because of the senseless and brutal Russian aggression War in Ukraine, 17 journalists were killed in Ukraine during the last 1,5 years.

While it is good to note that no journalist has been killed in Uganda in recent years, we cannot ignore the threats that journalists in this country do face. From online harassment and hate speech to physical assaults and arrests, the threats faced by journalists are serious and need to be addressed. I would like to use this opportunity to urge all stakeholders to ensure that reporters can do their job in safety and that those responsible for unlawful attacks against them are held to account.

Ladies and gentlemen,

As I near the end of my remarks, I want to congratulate all of the winners so far this evening and the finalists in those categories where the winners will be announced very shortly. This evening is a celebration of your impressive work and I hope also a strong incentive to continue with the important public service you provide.

Let me also recognise the contribution of the media owners and editors present this evening – your roles are of course also vital to the success and growth of Uganda’s media – now and into the future. As I mentioned, the EU looks forward to continuing to support the sector in the coming years and remains very grateful for the good collaboration we have had with media houses over the years.

I also cannot leave the stage without appreciating all of you who are active in Ugandan media, for the quality content that you produce. I have lived the last 15 years in several African countries and was really impressed with the media content that I saw when I came to Uganda last year!

Finally, let me once again thank our hosts the African Centre for Media Excellence and its Executive Director Dr Lugalambi for organising these awards.

Thank you for your attention and looking forward to the rest of the evening!

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