CONTROVERY. That’s how I wrote the word CONTROVERSY in a headline in 2009. Having left the [dis]comfort of full-time reporting from Kitgum a few months back, I was faced with the hard realities that come with sub-editing –attention to detail, meticulousness, getting the facts right, the spellings right, the numbers right, the names right, etc.

I still remember my boss walking up to me with a paper in his hand, and without saying a word, he showed me the headline. We were in the middle of a staff meeting. I shrank in shame. Suddenly, all eyes in the newsroom were turned on me, and yet they were not. My head stayed bowed the whole day but most importantly, I learnt my lesson – that a sub-editor, and indeed a journalist, is a surgeon – you cut a vein and you damage or even kill a patient.

When news about the introduction of new fees for journalists first trickled in, my first reaction was that this is an absurd move and absurd it is. Under the Press and Journalists (fees) Regulations 2014, a journalist is required to pay Shs200,000 for a practicing certificate, Shs30,000 for an enrollment certificate, Shs50,000 to enter the journalist’s certificate into the register of journalists, Shs100,000 for annual renewal of certificate, among other fees.

When one considers how much [or little] a journalist earns [free-lancers earn per story, staff or salaried reporters earn between Shs400,000 to about Shs1m or slightly more, depending on so many things. A sub-editor earns Shs600,000 or Shs800,000 or more, again depending on responsibilities, performance, seniority, among others. These figures are estimates, but if journalists are to pay the new fees as individuals, then many will only be left with what resembles a salary.

It is also clear that these new charges are a direct affront to the right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the media. Article 29 of the Constitution states: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media.” But with this proposed law, the government will determine who practices journalism or not by granting, denying or declining to renew a journalist’s practicing certificate.

Thirdly, resurfacing at a time when the country is inching towards a crucial election period; even with a pipe dream of extending the 2016 polls, one cannot help but be suspicious about the motive of these new guidelines. This same legislation can be used to muzzle journalists deemed critical of government or its influential individuals and that will not just deny journalists a right to freedom of expression, but it will affect the profession as a whole in the long run.

The role of the media as a watchdog, which is already immensely threatened, will be further jeopardized. So, this law is bad.
But, looking at this development from another perspective, one thing is true, that the journalist’s kitchen is not clean and needs serious scrubbing. And it is this reality that should move individual media houses to put their houses in order and in the process score one goal ahead of the ‘enemy’. So what are the dirty corners of this kitchen?


For the past four years I have practiced journalism full time, ignorance has proved to be the deadliest disease afflicting the profession. How else can one explain the recent reporting about the ‘mini-skirt’ law? An ignorant minister makes an ignorant statement that the Anti-Pornography Act has banned miniskirts. The media, without challenging the minister about the incorrectness of his statement, or giving context about what the Act actually says, publishes/broadcasts the ignorance for all to read/listen to. So what happens? The public descends on women, beats, robs and strips them, because we told them to do so. A few media houses came out to ‘set the record straight’ and the police issues a warning too, but the damage had been done.

The public’s reaction to how the media covered that law showed how influential the media is, but I won’t be wrong if I stated that we don’t know [or have forgotten] how much power we wield. Otherwise, we would be using that power for a much greater good, including negotiating for our own welfare and better salary packages.

The ‘miniskirt’ law aside, our general knowledge about issues and the people we report about or write for is wanting and yet we are supposed to be the most knowledgeable. We are supposed to set or at least guide the direction the agenda of the day takes, but our words limp, others fall by the roadside as we try to make a point. So how shall we convince the government to drop this proposed fees if we don’t know the difference between Amuru and Amuria districts. How shall we rally others behind us, if we still refer to Mr Olara Otunnu as a ‘Dr’? How shall we front convincing arguments to concerned authorities about this absurd charges if we can’t distinguish between ‘sort’ and ‘sought’, ‘cite’ and ‘sight’, ‘your’ and ‘you are’? It is that bad.


Walk into any newsroom at any time and you will most likely find a journalist’s ears plugged with ear phones. It will be in the morning. And they are not listening to Al Jazeera or KFM news or that TV talk show – it is music. They will not nod to it, just in case you figure out their ‘sins’. Another one will report at 8:00am to work, attend a meeting or two and thereafter sit behind the computer. They won’t be typing a story or researching about Intellectual Property or Hepatitis E or media freedom – it will be a chat on Facebook, a post here, a comment there, with eyes running over ‘exciting’ pictures.

It can’t be work without play right? Very true. Sadly, we are failing to balance between work and play [interaction] and as we share that hot gossip in a chat, we are also writing a story or a headline and tomorrow, it will be “Manger dies” instead of “Manager dies” or “Fiancé Ministry” instead of “Finance Ministry”.

There are many more issues affecting the proper work of journalists – some a stain on the shirt/dress of the employer. But we see stains on our attires too. Shall we clean them up or are we so used to seeing them that they don’t look dirty anymore? Shall we continue producing daily post-mortem reports about how well we should have done instead of how better we can do? Or shall we cock our eyes to start seeing the danger ahead, the solution in the corner and the escape route on the left?

Next time when I next see the word ‘passion’ or ‘passionate’ in a headline, I’ll know whether this ‘rant’ has helped or not. And just in case you hadn’t noticed it, these two words are ‘in vogue’ these days. You won’t take long before reading a headline or story with “The farmer passionate about growing cabbages” or “Nabakooba, the woman whose passion is to look after orphans” or better still, “Passion made Mukasa leave banking for business”. It’s a world full of passion, that’s why we passionately whip this word without compassion [see, I also used it]. But just in case we left you behind, the point is that our creative bud needs to be refreshed too, all the time.

Mistakes are unavoidable, even I made them and continue to do so, but we have got to be seen to make an effort in producing clean copy, accurate copy and copy that will serve the purpose for which we call ourselves journalists. It is only then that shall we have the authority to kick such bad policies and laws in the butt without flinching. Image


10 thoughts on “The journalist fees are absurd but our house needs cleaning

  1. Well, great post.

    However, I disagree with you about music. I think there are people who have, over time, learnt to focus with music in their ears. Some also find the sound of music less distracting than the chit-chat around them, the laughter ringing out every now and then. Especially in a newsroom. Also, headphones sometimes are code for “I don’t want to be disturbed.” If I am wearing them I can ignore anyone I want to, even when there is no music playing.


  2. Othman, you are right. When both the ‘boss’ and the ‘subordinate’ realize that they need to make personal improvements, then things will get better. For instance, pointing out to the boss that he/she should have used the word ‘weak’ instead of ‘week’ in a sentence, will make them realize that there’s no need for sheep or lions in the newsroom – just colleagues, learning from each other.


  3. Good read, but there is more to passion or laziness to that effect. Look at the week leadership in our newsrooms. Harriet “100 sheep led by one lion are better than a 100 lions led by one sheep.” If newsrooms can decipher this then trust me things shall get better. Otherwise it gets tricky for any boss to criticize their juniors’ when they pass for ‘mechanics’ of sorts.


  4. In the newsroom for the money? But the lamentation is that there is no money in journalism. Professionalizing the media; I agree. Although I hope you are not looking at it in terms of those who have done journalism, or English or Literature.


  5. Most of us are in the newsroom for the money, not ‘passion’ [that word you rant about!]. To clean up the media houses we have, we will have to start by professionalising the whole institution. There are too many non-deserving fellows in the newsroom passing for journalists without an iota of the basics of the trade.


  6. Yes, there is need for a clean up. Its so hurting to buy paper and the content you find in really doenst give you vlaue for money. Great work


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