The journalism of survival over value

A trip to the eastern Uganda district of Tororo over the Easter holidays came for me with a lot of lessons into the state of the media in the country today.

During my short stay there I interacted with journalists on several occasions, especially at the local radio stations.

Most times, their stories were full of grievances;.“Can you believe I earn Shs 250,000 a month yet I pay rent, have a wife and two children…?” “We work so much yet earn so little; “We are being exploited.” Do you know of any better opportunities that I can seek in Kampala?”

Although they dread the state of operations in Tororo, little do these journalists know that the profession’s plight is the same countrywide.

Over the years there has been an increasing interest in practising journalism. Approximately 3,000 Ugandans graduate with a diploma or degree in mass communication and journalism annually.

These enthusiastic numbers are oblivious to the harrowing tales of those already in the field. The most regular media houses in Uganda pay a monthly wage of between Shs150,000 and Shs400,000. At times this figure may   come without allowances to facilitate operations.

The bigger media houses, with bigger advertiser incomes, pay a higher rate and may sometimes motivate their workers with supplementary benefits.

Media owners always try to minimise costs and maximise profit, a simple business concept that they have easily achieved by the lack of a minimum wage in Uganda’s media industry. They have taken advantage of this loophole to exploit their workers.

A colleague who works at a radio station in Gulu gave me a rather interesting version of how media owners can stay in operation while paying their workers low wages.

“These guys are businessmen. As long as the radio brings in the money, they don’t care about the ethics and wellbeing of the workers.

They employ unqualified people, even Senior Four drop outs, because these people can take any amount of money they are given. How then will a graduate compete in such an environment?”

“Here, our journalists even end up in sports betting to make ends meet,” another journalist from Mbale told me.

There may be prevailing issues such as the deteriorating state of press freedom that is a threat to objective and accurate reporting in Uganda’s media industry.

However, the unsung vice that is silently eating up our values in reporting is the growing need to survive over the need to practise honest journalism.

Hypothetically, taking a bribe in favour of publishing or not publishing a story is considered unethical under the Ugandan media laws, according tothe Press and Journalists Act and the Independent Media Council of Uganda.

Nevertheless, these words will sound like total idiocy to a journalist who runs the streets every day for Shs150,000 a month and yet he/she can pocket an instant Shs500,000 to conceal a story that would be the downfall of a prominent businessman or politician.

People get employed for various reasons: to sustain oneself, a chief motive them. Employees who are less    motivated are more susceptible to compromise.

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