By; Basaijja Idd-Programs Dep’t
There are many areas around the world, particularly in less developed countries, where it is dangerous, even life-threatening, to practice journalism.
The recent by-election in Busongora South Constituency Kasese district provides yet another tragic illustration of the vulnerability of journalists in such tense situations.
While it is impossible to prevent all of the risks these journalists are exposed to, journalists can and should do more to reinforce their own safety.
By gathering and disseminating reliable information, journalists carry out a crucial mission of public interest.
It is often thanks to journalists that serious human rights violations, crimes, and other atrocities are brought to the attention of the public and of decision makers.
By going where others do not go, by interviewing people others fear, verifying facts and getting the news out, they take immeasurable risks.
Journalists on duty everyday face extreme danger, including kidnapping, hostage-taking, offline and online harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention , torture and at the extreme being murdered.
In Uganda, the Press Freedom Index Report of 2021 by the Human Rights Network for Journalists -HRNJ, recorded at least 131 cases of abuse or violations of rights of journalists.
For such reasons, Umbrella for Journalists in Kasese-UJK working with its partner Freedom House through the support of USAID are implementing “the protect and promote press freedom project” in the four district of-Kasese, Bunyangabu, Kabarole and Bundibugyo in the Rwenzori sub region.
Cardinal to this project is to enhance the media freedoms and safety of journalists by providing emergency support to affected media practitioners in the Rwenzori sub region and strengthening peer support networks for collective promotion and protection of media freedoms.
On 10th February, 2023, a grand capacity building training was held at Fort View Hotel in Fort Portal Tourism City where team of 12 peer support network-PSN- was identified to help in effecting this project.
In this noble role, the volunteer-PSN-are particularly to: Advocate for safety of journalist in their areas of work, sensitize practicing journalists on matters of their safety and freedoms and link journalists and their local media houses with UJK.
The 12 were taken through the basics of human rights, professional rights and fundamental roles each journalist must play in “consolidating the freedom of a colleague.”
Counsel Muhirwa Deus Alituha from the Murungi & Mugabe Associates Media and Legal consultants who led the main discussion believed that journalist’s must come out boldly and defend their rights well aware that their silence can cost a nation.
He argued that even when many media houses lack the resources to contract lawyers, there a number of firms offering pro bono services and local organization like UJK that are willing to support legal proceedings.
“Press freedom ends at a point where you begin to do good journalism.”
Counsel John Murungi who presented a paper on media freedom in Uganda said the first step for every journalist to be safe is understanding the national and international legal frameworks and how they affect the journalism practice.
He equally argued that journalists right from time immemorial have failed to come together and raise a voice against those who threaten their work and lives.
“For journalists, understanding of the legal and policy frameworks that affect media and freedom of expression in Uganda is critical since this empowers them not only to appreciate but also to take full control of their situations”
Participants while they applauded the training, they noted a need to bring fourth other key stake holders including media managers and security agencies into these kind of discussions.
John Akugizibwe, a journalist attached to KRC FM in Fort Portal argued in his submission that most media houses are not supportive whenever their employees get in danger.
He noted that there not so many employees who are bold enough to face their bosses in the face to change this status quo.
“A man has spent one year without paying you, will he give you transport to reach the police to put in a complaint because you have been beaten while on duty? “He asked to a vibrating No from the audience
Such a sentiment was similar to those earlier shared by Kobusinge Molly of Clouds FM found in Fort Portal and Akoraebirungi Muhunga Junior of Development FM in Bundibugyo. They both feel, media managers are not doing enough to support employees when struck with challenges in line of duty.
For Kyaligonza Edward, the editor in-chief at Ngabu FM in Bunyangabu district, many journalists have to bear with threats and “all those stuff” because the perpetuators have connections with media owners.
He thinks that is such a association as UJK don’t come on ground to engage media owners, journalist rights will remain being abused.
“So how do report to police that you have been threatened by the RDC yet you know he is a close friend to your boss, so some of realities must be taken into consideration.” Kyaligonza submitted.
Whereas threatens are largely discussed as physical, Jolly Mbambu of Messiah Radio in Kasese and her counterpart Sylvia Kugonza from jubilee Radio in Fort Poartal reminded participants that female journalists suffer more violations than their male counterparts.
For example, the pair noted that female journalists especially the new entrants in the industry are sexually harassed by their bosses or supervisors and often have no guided option other than to submit.
“Am luck I have not experience this but I have stories of many girls who have been sexually abused by bosses in the name of getting a job on radio, many cases I would say.” Kugonza testified.
Mbambu advocates for female journalist to be given a priority in such trainings so that they can be empowered on how to defend their own rights and freedoms at work.
Borrowing from her rich experience, Joan Akello working with Daily Monitor head office in Kampala, she feels up country journalists need to be much organized if they are to hold anyone to account for having violated their professional rights.
She was also optimistic that such intervention as having PSN team could bring journalists closer in addressing some of these challenges challenges.
“As a journalist, first of all know the law, know when you are in right or wrong, sometimes we make mistakes, either getting into people’s private lives or something of sort just because we are journalists, we must know the laws governing media and the whole journalism practice.” Akello guided
The UJK coordinator, Bikeke Saimon says the organization is now focusing on re-awakening media practitioners in the region to stand up and jointly defend their freedoms.
He added that the PSN team will be instrumental in ensuring that the PPPF project is fully utilized in addressing challenges affecting journalist in the region.
“A big number was supported from Kasese and this time we want to hear from all the four districts, let us register cases, let us seek support because its available, let us unite.” Bikeke called out
Idd Basaijja, the programs officer at UJK emphasized that the resources available at the organization are available for any practicing journalist, freelancer or blogger as long as the case qualifies to get support.
“This money is not for UJK, it’s for you, so if you have a problem in your district, report to us because if the money is not utilized then it will mean we don’t have a need or a justifiable reason to seek more funds in future.” Idd noted
The participants who cherished Freedom House for this noble support agreed to coordinate with UJK in the project implementation and the drive to ensure journalists in the region are safe.
A luta continua!