IFJ/LOTCO Trade Union Development Workshops in Uganda - Interim Report

Report from the Uganda Journalists Union (UJU)

The Uganda Journalists Union (UJU) conducted four one-day Trade Union Development Workshops for upcountry journalists who work for media outlets in East, Western, Northern, Southern and Central parts of the country. The training workshops were supported by the Swedish unions LO-TCO under the framework of the IFJ trade union development programme. The workshops were conducted by the UJU executives Michael Wakabi {President}, Herbert Lumansi {Treasurer}, Stephen Ouma Bwire {General Secretary} and Esther Nakkazi Women wing chairperson.

A total of 30 journalists in each region, including UJU contact/Regional coordinators, were targeted and successfully attended the workshops. At the end of the exercise at least over 150 new journalists from mainly new FM radio stations and some upcountry correspondents attached to major newspaper papers in the country like the Government owned the New Vision, Bukedde, Etop and Rupinyi plus the Independent The Monitor newspaper, were trained and recruited.

Thirty Journalists who converged at Jinja's Annesworth Hotel on October 25,2003, came from four districts of Iganga, Mayuge, Kamuli, Bugiri and Jinja. The fruitful workshop was conducted by the UJU General Secretary Mr Stephen Ouma Bwire. UJU President Michael Wakabi conducted the Northern Uganda workshop on October 28 at Gulu's PearlAfric Hotel covering the districts of Lords Resistance Army {LRA} rebels - infested Gulu, Lira, Apach and Kitgum. A total of 30 upcountry journalists mainly representing the New Vision and The Monitor Newspapers plus Radio Wa, Mega FM, Radio Paidha and Arua One.

Herbert Lumansi{Treasurer} conducted the Southern region workshop on November 1, 2003 for journalists in Masaka, Sembabule, Rakai, Kyotera, and Kalangala at Masaka's Brovad Hotel. Esther Nakkazi (Chairperson women’s' wing) conducted a workshop in Southern Uganda covering the districts of Mbarara, Rukungiri, Bushenyi, Kabale, Ntungamo and Fort-Portal on November 8, at Hotel Lake Victoria Mbarara.

Micheal Wakabi, Stephen Ouma, Herbert Lumansi and Esther Nakkazi conducted a joint workshop in Central Region (Kampala, Mukono,Mpigi, Kayunga,Wakiso and Luwero) on November 12, at Hotel Africana in Kampala for 40 Journalists. It emerged those journalists operating from the war zone which includes Gulu, Kitgum, Lira and Apac districts affected by the Lords Resistance Army are the most affected as they operate under fear throughout the days and in hiding. They hide away from the rebels and at the same time fear government troops who will shoot indiscriminately once one is caught up on the frontline abruptly.

Journalists discussed among others, strengthening the Uganda Journalists Union, the registration of UJU with the Registrar of Trade Unions, What a Trade Union is, Why journalists need a union, Workplace organisation and how recruitment can get started.

The journalists also discussed the future of Freelance Journalists in the development of UJU and why freelancers should be helped to meet ends at the current dynamic conditions in the media industry. Journalists from upcountry reaffirmed their stand to push for the registration of UJU as this is the only way the journalists' rights and welfare can be protected.

The majority {about 98 per cent} of the upcountry journalists are freelancers who do the donkey work but end up being paid peanuts. Every journalist especially FM radio media personnel are paid differently depending on how one is well connected with the media owners. The radios in question are the Jinja based Nile Broadcasting radio, Kiira FM and Busoga FM, which have created divisions and animosity within their journalists to an extent that they can not only contribute to more than one radio but more significant, they cannot even exchange story tips. As a result the journalists are under utilized and therefore low income derived from their work.

The workshop noted that Media Owners particularly radio owners in the Eastern part of the country are not journalists and therefore do not appreciate the problems of journalists and who are only bent at requiring journalists to pursue the private interest of the proprietor or publisher. Since the market is flooded by "cheap labour" freelancers especially those attached to the private media like in FM radios, there has been a reduction in full time jobs.

They said the registration of UJU has been overdue and would have solved some or all those professional problems. They dismissed the so called Uganda Media Union {UMU} which they said is made up of non - journalists self seeking individuals, who think they dupe donors into giving them funds. The UMU constitution in addition does not address the problem of journalists, it is too amorphous, encompasses printers, mechanics, sweepers, newspaper agents, vendors and even newspaper readers and radio listeners. The Journalists condemned the Registrar of Trade Unions for sabotaging UJU and registering a fake or bogus union that is run by non - journalists and has no members.

The journalists wondered that if UMU was a genuine body of journalists why has it not recruited them and challenged UMU to convene a General Assembly of journalists if they claim to be journalists.

The participants resolved that UJU with the support of local and international journalists and human rights organisations should petition the Inspector General of Government {IGG} to investigate the dubious registration of a fake union and denial of the genuine and legitimate UJU by the Registrar of Trade Unions to register.

They want the IGG and the Minister in charge of Trade Unions to use their discretion and deregister the UMU for the good of the journalists and Uganda as a country. Participants also said they are behind the UJU executive should there be need to seek legal redress challenging the registration of UMU.

They empowered the UJU executive to continue pursuing registration of UJU since the Registrar of Trade Unions recently allowed the Nurses to break off from the Uganda Medical Workers Union {UMWU} and form a union of their own. Journalists proposed that as a way of strengthening UJU more regional workshops and seminars be organised to tackle such issues as:

{a} Proper Training programmes on basics in Journalism
{b} Professional Code of Ethics and Media Laws
{c} Labour issues like remuneration of journalists and other working conditions accruing from workplaces. They cited Housing allowance, Transport allowance, Leave allowance and Maternity paid up leave as being almost unheard off in the country.
{d} Protection of Freelancers Copyright. ie journalists should be allowed to sell their copy to more than one media outlet and to whoever is ready to pay for their stories. In Masaka Journalists under South Buganda Journalists Association (SOBUJA) identified the following as pertinent issues;
(e) Lack of proper training for some upcountry journalists working in the region
(f) Lack of unity and good working relationship among journalists in the region and discrimination of part time journalists by media owners/proprietors
(g) Poor pay for journalists and mistreatment of freelance journalists by employers
(h) Lack of safety for working journalists in the field and refusal by public officers to provide information to journalists.
(i) SOBUJA members agreed to support UJU by registering their membership with the Union.
(j) SOBUJA members want UJU to organise more sensitisation workshops not only on Trade Union affairs but also on other ethical issues.
(k) They requested UJU to endeavour and unite all other regional journalists’ associations in the country and to focus on building a wider membership that will make it a strong journalists body.
(l) SOBUJA members requested UJU leadership to solicit for funds for training on basic skills in journalism and on other areas like Human Rights, election monitoring , Health, Gender and Child rights.

Participants discussed other media related problems like the influx of FM Radio stations after government liberalised the airwaves which now recruit "cheap" labour in the form of disc jockeys {DJs} many of whom are untrained but call themselves journalists. The DJs are usually either connected to the radio owners or are picked from the streets and turned into "journalists".

The biggest debate of the day and indeed the most contentious issue in all the four regional seminars was the definition of a journalist. The Journalism books have made a “vague” definition of a journalist as "one who is involved in the gathering, processing and dissemination of information tough adding that such person could be trained in an institution on the basics of the profession. But since every Tom, Dick and Harry who in one way or the other directly or indirectly involved in the information flow claims to be a journalist the UJU definition of a Journalist was applied in all workshops to save the argument.

The UJU constitution defines a journalist as that person who is involved in the information gathering, processing and dissemination and spends at least 60 per of his or her work practicing as a journalist and derives at least more than 50 per cent of his or her income from practicing as a journalist. The debate on whether DJS are journalists or not hit a stalemate since most participants were of the view that all depended on ones' status at his or her media outlet. For instance there are some DJs who have pulled their meagre resources and enrolled at journalism institutions in Kampala and qualified as either Diploma or Certificate holders in the profession.

UJU was requested to solicit for more sponsorship to cover workshops that can critically address media related problems like the status of journalists, training on ethics, roles and specialized training on Election coverage, Human Rights, Children's Rights, War, Gender issues, Health, Political and Economic Development. Upcountry journalists accuse the Kampala based media outlets of carrying out many of their programmes in Kampala and forgetting journalists who operate from rural areas. For instance almost all training programmes are conducted in Kampala and even a few that go to upcountry they end up being dominated by the Kampala journalists.

Journalists noted with great concern the mushrooming sub - standard journalism institutions that have "diluted" the quality of journalists that are being churned out to the media industry. For instance there exists a Journalism institution in Jinja town that conducts training lecturers to students for only two hours every Saturday and Sunday there after three months it awards a Certificate in Journalism. "What sort of journalist would be produced from 12 lectures of time totalling 48 hours", participants wondered.

The quality of such "graduands" leaves a lot to be desire because apart from not know knowing the basics of Journalism like the Five Ws {what, who, where, when, why plus how}, they operate through gambling.

We plan to convene the UJU Congress/General Assembly next month to discuss all pertinent issues in the profession which include the effect of government’s liberalization of the airwaves, reform in the media laws, training programmes, professional ethics, the plight of journalists especially freelance journalists, working conditions for journalists, review UJU activities, strengthen UJU and to plan the way forward.

Stephen Ouma Bwire
General Secretary
Uganda Journalists Union