Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Media experts have cautioned journalists against seeking relief aid or any kind of financial support or handouts to avoid undermining the principle of independence in the execution of their duties.
The caution comes moments after the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) announced that it had received funding from businessman Ham Kiggundu and procured food items to support its members whose work has been disrupted by the various measures put in place by the government to control the spread of coronavirus–COVID-19.
A statement from the UJA President Hajji Kazibwe Bashir Mbaziira says that the current measures have affected freelance journalists who do not have transport means to source stories due to a ban on public transport. He said that as Ugandans observe an extra 21-days of the lockdown, the Uganda Journalists Association is working to ensure that affected journalists are catered for.
“With Kiggundu’s support and UJA resources, we have managed to buy food items including sugar, rice, maize flour and beans. In our first phase, UJA targets to extend these items to 100 journalists that are in dire need,” he said.
But Dr Peter Mwesige, the Executive Director of the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) says that if fundraising for member’s welfare from sources is one of UJA’s way of doing business, some journalists can do nothing about it, but it obviously reflects badly on Uganda’s journalism as a whole. He says that picking food aid from a businessman undermines the principles of good journalism.
The Journalism Code of Ethics calls for independence among practitioners in order to enable journalists to diligently serve the public and avoid a real or perceived conflict of interest. It discourages journalists from taking gifts, favours, and special treatment or a benefit that may compromise their integrity or impartiality and damage their credibility.
“It is a very big risk that those who have received support from some of those groups are taking. Will members of UJA who have received this support from Hamis Kiggundu report on his dubious business well, aggressively, fairly, critically? These are the kind of questions that we should ask” Mwesige said.
Mwesige says that although freelancers are bound to suffer as a result of COVID-19 measures, there are so many avenues out there for journalists to serve the public without putting their credibility in balance. He says it is better for journalists to explore all avenues than run to news sources.
Dr George Lugalambi, a media trainer says that the move is definitely problematic even though this is a very complicated situation. He says the fundamental ethical issue is the same whether one is a freelance reporter or a staff writer adding that journalists can never appeal to their news sources.
Lugalambi said that journalists are not health workers or teachers that can receive aid from a businessman and get away with it. He says unlike those categories, they need to keep the businessman in check.
The Uganda Journalists Association is supposed to bring together all Ugandan media practitioners, protecting their interests, safeguarding their rights and freedom and ensuring that journalists observe ethics in their practice.