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MEDIASURGEON

Media Ethics-focus on
Uganda
1. Identifying five types of ethical standards and( with examples from
current print and broadcast media) ,analyse obstacles and causes as well as
remedies in our future Ugandan journalistic practice.

Baliboola. N .Ivan

2010

IVANBALIB@YAHOO.COM
1. Identifying five types of ethical standards and( with examples from current print and
broadcast media) ,analyse obstacles and causes as well as remedies in our future
Ugandan journalistic practice.

Occasionally books will talk about ethics in chapters but we have failed to integrate them in day
to day work. The rush of events forces journalists to make ethical decisions by reflex rather than
reflection. Journalists have to face ethical problems daily and so it is important that they have
professional codes to refer to

Ethics are moral principles of conduct which guide our behaviour. Ethics are rules of conduct or
principles of morality that point towards the right or the best way to act in a situation1.
The level of professionalism and ethics is low in Uganda; even journalistic institutions are still
young apart from Makerere University. Uganda does not have a fully grown journalist
professionals given the Fact that mass communication is 20 years old. This explains the
existence rampant journalistic ethical problems.

The Ethical standards include;


Truth and honesty
Under truth telling, a journalist is expected to seek the truth and report it as truly as possible. The
Society of Professional Journalists, sigma, Delta Chi, believes that the duty of journalists is to
serve the truth2. The search for the truth means telling things as face value. Journalists should
not sit on truth just because of fear or a bribe they have received .journalists must be honest in
gathering, reporting and interpreting information .journalists should not Lying to people about
themselves to get information, going to functions disguised not as journalists and later report
about it and ghost interviews questions and answers.
Truth sometimes is hard. Even in the dedicated pursuit of truth, error is frequent.Journalists
should always be ready to apologise in case they misrepresent the truth. A Journalist has a task of
reporting truthfully while at the same time keeping away from forces that influence his decision.
In Uganda some media houses create Imaginary characters and deception stories and characters
to increase sales. For example Niberu story of Red pepper about a stone called Niberu to hit the
world by 2010 and it come to an end.
Journalists are expected to be honest at all times. Media practitioner should also use straight
forward means to get information or pictures. Their justification of using subterfuge in gathering
information should be in situations when other means have failed and it is in public interest.

1
Joseph Dominic, Dynamics of mass communication , McGraw hill 1999
2 rd
Joseph R. Dominick, Barry L. Sherman and Gary A. Copeland ,Broadcasting/Cable and Beyond 1996,3 Ed U.S.A
pg.322
Plagiarism is dishonesty and unacceptable. Part 4 of the professional codes of ethics in first
schedule of press and Journalist statute, 1995 prohibits journalists to plagiarize other people’s
works without attributing.

Accuracy and fairness


This involves all errors of facts. Sometimes journalists fail to achieve accuracy by blowing up a
story out of proportion. A small minor issue is enlarged to something else. Fairness is also a
party to accuracy; fairness to both sides in a story by a journalist is like a judge who must be
objective. This calls for neutrality in writing irrespective of social, political and economic
implications. Journalist must always be ready to apologise and correct errors in their reporting
and publications. Being respectful, confidence and professionalism pays accuracy. There is need
to Recognise the importance of fair and balanced reporting of differing opinions. It is rare today
to find a newspaper that doesn’t separate its own opinion from objective presentation of facts. In
Ugandan media especially government controlled UBC TV and radio does not provide equal
time to opposition politicians as they give to government officials. This is evident during 2001
and 2006 presidential election. It is also duty of journalists to allow a fair opportunity for reply
when called for. The New Vision of Wednesday, October 28, 2009 carried a corrections column
on page 4. Rumours and unconfirmed reports, if published at all, should be identified as such.

Privacy
This happens to be a central issue in journalism. At a lower level it is secrecy. Journalists are
expected to draw clear distinction between privacy and public domain of people’s lives.
Politicians and other public officials may have their privacy intrusion justifiable if it’s in public
interest. For example new vision on October 26, 2009 found a story about National forestry
Authority Boss in public interest even when it was a private matter of him losing 900 million he
had left at home to his wife. Questions were what is the source of money and secondly why keep
a lot of money at home
However, Article 12 of the universal declaration of human rights protects privacy against
surveillance by security organs like phone tapping, unauthorised access to data that is health or
finances, invasion of reporters into personal lives, insentivity and vulgarity .obtaining pictures in
unskilful way.
The categories of people that can be considered in privacy include; people in media scrutiny
and voluntary work like writers, poets, artists, activists; personalities created and sustained by the
media that is they could never have become prominent if it wasn’t for the media. For example
sports personalities, social events people finally politicians and similar people in positions of
power. But the area of politicians is thin for politicians world over. Privacy verses public need to
know. Even when journalists gather information on private live, they should ask for comment
from the concerned party. The New vision code of practice part three has this to say about
privacy
‘Publishing material or making inquiries about private lives of individuals without their consent
is not acceptable unless these are in public interest, overriding the right of privacy’ .A local
tabloids Red pepper and Bukedde are known for abusing people’s privacy for example
publishing celebrities intimate or nude pictures without their permission or conscent. These
newspapers run sensational materials which undermines all ethical standards of journalists.

Conflict of interest and independence


Being a judge in your own case especially in matters you are passionately involved resulting in
Biased news gathering and reporting. A journalist should always declare his position to
appointing Editor if he or she is likely to have conflict of interest arise as on duty. Conflict of
interest can Compromise the integrity of both the journalists and the media institution. Conflict
of interest maybe as result of personal interest based on religion, culture, economic, associations
and opinion. For Example the CBS radio journalists promoted boycott against new vision
Newspapers and Bukedde radio after New Vision run a story about Kabaka and Mengo
establishment exchanging Bulange Mengo land title for a 1 billion Loan. This was conflict of
interest as Bukedde radio was a Competitor station and CBs stood to benefit .Also during NSSF
Temangalo Scandal that focused on Patrick Amama Mbabazi.other journalists from western
Uganda did not see any wrong with Influence peddling involved. Andrew mwenda supported
Amama Mbabazi.

Confidentiality
This is an ability of media professionals to keep secrets names of people who provide him with
information. Journalists should acknowledge the newsman’s ethics of protecting confidential
sources of information. Sometimes a journalist if dragged to court may have to choose between
jail and revealing source of information.
The pledges of confidentiality to news sources must be honoured at all costs, and therefore
should not be given lightly .Unless there is clear and pressing need to maintain confidences,
sources of information should be identified3

Obstacles and causes to professional conduct of journalists


Lack of professionalism, media is dominated all types people who are just handpicked. Media
owners do not look for professionalisms. Even when they are appointed people, they are not
oriented on conduct. Some media practitioners in radio only think media is about drama

Government influence is major obstacle. Government on a number of occasions interferes in


professional work of journalists for example government organs intimidate or harass journalists.
On other occasions government has raided media houses, threatened to withdraw their licenses.
The government uses bad laws like libel, defamation and sedition to harass, limit the activities of

3
Article VI of American Society of Newspaper Editors statement of principles, last updated on August 20,1996
journalists. The government has on number of occasions banned media from reporting on
specific debates. For example there was a ban on coverage of Besigye as he returned from Exile.
Also recently after the kiyunga riots Bimeeza were banned and four radio stations closed.this
evidences government interference

Conflict of interest. This sometimes may arise from religious, cultural, club, association a
journalist belongs to, has personal interest in and stands to benefit. Sometimes conflict of interest
is due to gifts and other media facilitation forms like transport and branded items make
journalists loyal to those who offer. In such cases a journalist loses his integrity and objectivity
when reporting

Media ownership has had a great impact on observation of ethical standard. For example
scandals of wavamuno snatching widow’s land was not reported by WBS reporters in court
because it belongs to him. Also ownership like government, church or individual may have
different approach to ethics. A religious founded media house will expect all its workers to be
biased towards secularism in news reporting and gathering. A journalist may be deceptive,
subjective, unfair, inaccurate and not following other ethical guidelines because his boss has
commanded him to do otherwise. They may fear to lose jobs and so fail to honour some ethical
standards especially in private owned media.

Advertisers influence professional practice of journalists which makes stories lack integrity,
objectivity, fairness, accuracy and accountability. For example few media houses report
offensive stories about MTN even when it’s public information it has unstable network. Ugandan
journalism ethics have been derailed by profit motive form advertisers. In Uganda virtually all
news on radio and Television is sponsored by companies or organisations. Warid telecom
sponsors all news on radio Simba, NTV. Uganda telecom sponsors news on WbS TV by to
mention but a few.

Little payment to journalists and working conditions is another obstacle. Journalists in Uganda
are paid peanuts which exposes them to temptations of corruption and conflicts of interests. This
makes them lose the objectivity in their reporting and is biased toward one side. Little payments
make them less motivated. The poor payment is worsened by the poor working conditions

Competition among different media houses to report breaking stories can affect their ethical
considerations in such situations.

Existence of unpopular oppressive Laws affect the media in their professional practice for
example journalist may not keep source of his information confidential as court may force him to
reveal the source .other laws which include libel, sedition and limiting access to information
Sources of information are sometimes obstacles. They give half true confessions
Corruption .this mainly takes form of bribery by a source to make journalist suppress a specific
story about them. Journalists cannot act independent and objectively in such a situation.
Sometimes sources deny the source.

Freelance journalists are capable of not making the right ethic decisions. These are journalists
who are paid according to what story runs and can work for more than one media house.

Remedies for the future journalistic professional practice


Journalists and employing media house should endeavour to thoroughly investigate allegations
affecting individuals and institutions before disseminating them, this will check on unfairness,
inaccuracies.

Journalists and other media Practitioners should be encouraged to form and join associations
and clubs. These will help in professionalism, trainings and disciplinary committees to check
on ethical challenges.

Self censorship should be encouraged among journalists in news gathering and reporting.
Sometimes a newsworthy story however accurate it is may never be good for publication and
broadcast.

The media should exercise a lot of sensitivity to issues of the oppressed and rape victim. It
should be fair to the oppressed in presentation and compassion.
Listener, viewers and reader clubs should be developed and members empowered on ethical
expectations of journalists.

There should be Measures to promote highest standards of professionalism among journalists for
example free Offer refresher training for journalists in specialized reporting and periodic
registration of all journalists. Restrict entry to the journalistic professional practice like
examination before being allowed to operate.

Strengthen the self regulatory measures to uplift ethical standards of journalist. Ethics can be
checked by state through issuing and withdrawing operating licenses, Codes of ethics should
address issues of morality, content and independence.

Revising of payment and facilitation of journalists a especially the reporters who go out to the
field looking for news. Also facilitation informs of transport and lunch should be a duty of the
sending media houses. This will check on Gifts and favours, free travel, special treatment that
can compromise the integrity of journalists, therefore should stop

In conclusion
Mass media may endorse the highest standards of ethical conduct; but they will have their
reputation ruined by behaviour of one staff member. Individual journalists build their own mind
set of what is excellent ethical performance. Therefore a person who has decided to be a
journalist acknowledges his responsibility to audience and not his boss. We should know that in
journalism the end justifies the means. If you are telling g lies to find out the truth, then it’s okay.

References
1. Joseph R. Dominick, Barry L. Sherman and Gary A. Copeland ,Broadcasting/Cable and
Beyond 1996,3rdEd U.S.A pg.322
2. Article VI of American Society of Newspaper Editors statement of principles, last
updated on August 20, 1996
3. The New Vision Code Of Practice
4. Press and Journalist Statute 1995
5. New Vision October 26 2009
6. Rose Mary Kemigisha, Editor ‘A Handbook on The State of media In
Uganda’,kampala,1998

Written as a university project paper.

By
Baliboola. N. Ivan
C.E.O,Mediasurgeon.
UGANDA