The Guest Speaker at the opening ceremony, Honourable Dr. Abdul Byakatonda the Workers’ Representative at the Ugandan Parliament, emphasised that the first thing any journalist should do is to join the union. He noted that journalists are the vanguard of development and hence the need for journalists to know their rights. Honourable Abdul, said that freedom of association is a constitutional right in Uganda as Article 29 (1) of the Ugandan Constitution guarantees the freedom of association and the right of every worker to join a union of his/her choice. “Many of you here are working without contracts or even an appointment letter, the UJU must clamp down on media owners in order to address this anomaly and to engage media owners to sign collective agreements as this is a constitutional right”.
The President of the UJU, Lucy Ekadu, in her welcome address said that journalists in Uganda work under precarious conditions. “Most journalists are very poorly paid and freelance journalists bore the burden as some of them are paid as low as one thousand Ugandan Shillings (25 US Cents) for a story”. Sexual harassment is still rampant in the newsrooms but we cannot afford to remain silent and allow this to be normal. We must have the courage to speak out and work together as a union to denounce this menace especially on young female journalists entering the profession, by exposing the perpetrators and ensuring that they are brought to justice.
The Director of the IFJ Africa Office Pa Louis Thomasi, said that the majority of journalists in Africa are not unionised, mostly due to their ignorance on the work and benefits of trade unions and most importantly because of the fear of reprisals from their employers, some of who threaten their workers not to join the union. This, he said, is also a reality in Uganda. The UJU, he said, must challenge these callous threats from media owners and continue to sensitise young journalists on their rights to join the union.
The two- day seminar brought together 20 young journalists, most of whom work online, to deliberate on issues concerning the working conditions of young journalists online, freedom of expression and laws governing the use of the internet in Uganda, gender equality in the media as well as designing campaign strategies for the recruitment of young journalists. The participants at the seminar decried the signing into law of the Computer Misuse (Amendment) Act 2022 on Thursday 13 October, which provides a five-year imprisonment or a fine of Sh 16 million (US$ 4200) or both for social media users who send or share unsolicited offensive information or hate speech. The new laws states: “A person who uses social media to publish, distribute or share information prohibited under the laws of Uganda, or using a disguised or false identity, commits an offence”. The participants at the seminar lamented that the new law will have a negative impact on the work of journalists and human rights activists in Uganda.