By Mohamood Nnyombi
The media was recently in a heated debate over government’s “attempt” to institute new fees for registration of journalists, 000 as application for enrollment and to have their certificate entered onto the register of journalists; journalists will have to pay Ush50,000. This economic phenomenon, however, is where the government is missing the point.
Although article 40 of the 1995 Constitution provides for the right to work under economic rights, under satisfactory, safe and healthy conditions, equal pay without discrimination and the right to practice his/her profession, it is not the case with Journalism as an industry.
Many journalists are poorly remunerated without security and tenure. The ever increasing journalism training institutions that came up as a result of liberalization are producing more than enough graduates that cannot be absorbed by the industry.
As a result many are practicing as freelance journalists without pay. Now, where do you expect him to get the registration fees to pay? The best option for them here would be quitting the profession- thereby increasing the scope of unemployment.
As public watchdogs, the media have a social contract to fulfill – that of exposing official excess and actions. Now with the government well equipped with the tools to approve applications and revoke licenses, the future of free press is doomed. In fact with this government’s stronghold in the media, journalists will not be able to expose corrupt officials for fear of losing their practicing licenses.
History tells us that Colonialists were aware of the might of the pen. They knew how a vibrant media could be turned into a mobilization tool against them. They therefore, deliberately ensured a hostile terrain for the media in Uganda to crawl!
The likes of Mukubira and Jolly Joe Kiwanuka Nnamwatulira in Uganda are significant examples of the strength of media. The perception by the government that some Ugandan journalists are political, support opposition and therefore are anti-government is as a result of unprofessionalism is not true.
Historical facts reveal that media was founded on a Love-hate legacy not only in Uganda but also elsewhere in the world. But under maxims of equity, is it really ethical that if the media is not serving your interests, they must be undermined? That is an issue of debate.
Unlike other professional practices like medicine, Media is a different story; it is hard to impose a strict professional, ethical and credible discipline in the media practice. Never! The media gradually progress towards professionalism as do other sectors like economy.
That’s why before proving to be reactive, the government needs to proactively deal with media houses and sort out the issue of journalist’s remuneration and their working conditions if this new imposition is to be successful. There is also a need by the government to work towards enhancing promotion, protection and respect of human rights and build capacities of journalists to effectively execute their constitutional mandate.
Before this new legislation, the attacks and threats aimed at journalist as well as abuses of press freedom should stop because press freedom cannot flourish in an environment of fear where engaging in public debate means going against the government and the punishment are severe.
Nyombi is a journalist and a radio Show host. E-Mail; firstname.lastname@example.org