Reputed Lawyer and former Secretary General Uganda Law Society Nicholas Opiyo, clinic http://comeandcheck.it/wp-admin/includes/taxonomy.php warned on Wednesday of a growing conflict between political and commercial interests against the profession of journalism in Uganda.
The lawyer is now calling a revision of media ownership processes with a new law that bars non media practitioners from owing or actively managing media houses.
Speaking at a conference held by the parliamentary Media Forum in Kampala, this Opiyo, said that liberalisation of the media in the 1990s had only but opened up the industry to business.
Chaired by Hon Mariam Nalubega, the Forum was launched in November last year by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga, to discuss and lobby for the improvement of the media industry in Uganda by listening to the concerns of the media practitioners and lobbying for change on the floor of Parliament. The Forum brings together Members of Parliament from the ruling NRM party, opposition parties and the independents, especially those who were formerly journalists.
Counsel Opiyo noted that the explosion of media houses did not necessarily represent an expansion of space for practice of professional journalism and much less the exercise of freedom of expression.
Over 350 radio and television stations have been registered according to figures from Uganda Communications Commission.
“80% of these if you went and researched, are owned by politicians or people have been involved in politics or their close relatives,” said Opiyo.
“The main motivation is making money and indeed they are making a lot of it, but also they aim at using the stations for their campaigns during the election period, or to malign their political opponents.”
Claims of politician media owners influencing and politicising content have severally been attested to by especially opposition politicians who have reported being continuously blocked from using some houses to air out their views.
The lawyer warned that infiltration to the core management of the media industry by politicians and businessmen was a potential threat to the 4th estate.
He noted, “While media owners have fiscal muscle, as well as the power to control content, trained journalists have little say in what takes place in most of these media houses.
Opiyo called upon parliament to begin considering regulation of management and ownership of media houses, to save the situation, in the same way as the Advocates Act allows only lawyers to open up law firms.
“No plumber can open up a clinic. Why should every Tom Dick and Harry be able to open up a media house? The practice of journalism is a profession. In law, you cannot open up a law firm when you are not a lawyer. Journalists should start to claim their space in this industry to ensure that media houses are managed and controlled by media practitioners.
Speaking at the even however, Mr Charles Kazooba, CEO of Africa News Group said that most professional journalists in the country are financially too constrained to be able to start up their own houses.
This he said would be possible if there was support from government as well as foreign donors to help well trained practitioners with funding to open up their own stations.