Today 3rd of May is the World Press Freedom Day. It is the day when we all stop to recognise the important role of the media in our lives and specifically the growth and development of our country.
This year’s global theme is Journalism without fear or Favour.
World Press Freedom Day comes at a time when the World is struggling with the unfortunate outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Just like Medical workers, Journalists or the media industry are part of the frontline workers who are working hard to ensure that we all have the right information on how to stay safe from this virus.
We do recognise that media services just like any other sector are facing special challenges as a result of this pandemic and it becomes challenging to continue with business as usual. Journalists wake up every day to report about the COVID-19 pandemic amidst fears of how to stay safe.
I, therefore, want to thank all media practitioners who have chosen to rise beyond these fears and decided to continue serving their country without fear or favour.
Government of Uganda is aware of the unique importance of the media industry and more significantly in our current war against COVID-19.
It is for this reason that His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni ensured that Media personnel are listed amongst the essential category of service providers that needed to continue operating unhindered amidst the ongoing lockdown against COVID-19.
In an effort to support the media through these challenging times of COVID-19, government through my Ministry has made available an emergency fund of about UGX6Bn that is meant to bolster media efforts in informing and creating public awareness about COVID-19.
My Ministry has been in contact with the relevant media stakeholders on how best this fund can be utilized by all key media houses.
Secondly you will recall that at the beginning of the National Response against COVID-19, my ministry issued a list of standard operating procedures that journalists are expected to follow while carrying out their services.
I want to use this occasion to thank all media practitioners who continue to follow these guidelines. We want to ensure that journalists continue to remain safe and free from the virus as they carry out their services of informing the public.
However amidst the ongoing discussion on how media can continue to operate without fear or favour, the media is also being challenged on how to avoid publishing false and unverified information.
As the country is struggling to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus, we are also witnessing a growth in mass circulation of false and sometimes malicious information.
A lot of this false and malicious information is being circulated across social media platforms by selfish individuals who want to create fear and panic amongst the population; some of it is geared towards discrediting the good efforts of His Excellency the President and Government against COVID-19. I therefore want to appeal to all media practitioners to use this day to reflect upon the virtues of professional journalism. Good journalism is all about publishing verified facts and informed opinions.
In a special way, I want to challenge media practitioners in the established independent media houses to ensure that they rise to the highest levels all the time.
In this era of social media and COVID-19, the public will always rely on the mainstream media for guidance, for confirmation, for approval or disapproval of some of the misinformation that could be circulating online. It is always unfortunate when the mainstream journalists also fail to rise to the required quality of fact-checking and verifying falsehoods and instead continue with the thread of misinformation.
I wish you all a happy World Press Freedom Day. For God and My Country.
About Author: Hon. Judith Nabakooba is Minister ICT & National Guidance doubling as Mityana Woman MP