I am Carol Beyanga, managing editor of digital content for Uganda’s Daily Monitor. Uganda has a terrible ranking as far as press freedom is concerned. Ask me anything.
My name is Carol Beyanga and I am the Managing Editor - Digital Content at Monitor Publications Ltd, a Ugandan media company. As a journalist, I shall be talking about press freedom in Uganda and the challenges journalists face. Press Freedom in the country is not at a good place. The last few months have seen journalists being beaten, roughed up, incarcerated, and abducted by the security personnel. Outcries from the journalists and others have not yielded much. The reporters are out their doing their job and should be allowed to do so, as long as they are not participating in illegal activities, which we know they are not. I shall be talking about these challenges we face and how it affects the work we do and at the end of the day, the role of journalism in the community.
This AMA is part of r/IAmA’s “Spotlight on Journalism” project which aims to shine a light on the state of journalism and press freedom in 2018. Join us for a new AMA every day in October.
I shall have to end here for now. Thank you all for your interesting questions and support. Deeply appreciate it.
Should you wish to know more about our work at the Daily Monitor, do check out our website www.monitor.co.ug
Thanks! To be honest, there are days I ask myself the same question. So far, no. Because the need to keep giving people the truth and the facts increases every day.
Thank you for talking to us today.
When you say press freedom is terrible, how does that affect your reporting process? Do you have to avoid certain stories? Or is it a matter of just not even having access to report the news?
Please stay safe.
Thanks cahaseler! We now know which stories are difficult to report, those where the state is particularly interested, especially where Opposition members have a big following. In the recent past, reporting on by-elections or events where big Opposition members are involved has seen reporters being beaten, cameras being taken away and photographers asked to delete their photos, as well as reporters being put in the coolers for a few hours or days. This affects the reporters in two ways; either they have even more resolve to do the reporting or in a few instances, they withdraw from reporting on a particular beat.
Sometimes we find ourselves using a softer tone or leaving out certain content because putting that content in might see your reporters summoned to the police station or getting a call from ministers asking you to "do something about it."
Hi Carol! Thanks for taking the time to do an AMA with us.
I'm curious what impact gender has on your position. Is being a female journalist particularly worse, and if so, how? Also, what do your friends and family think about you having this job? I assume they might be proud but also worry for you.
Thanks again, and keep up the good work!
Thank you Duke_Paul. Being a female journalist is not particularly worse, but perhaps harder. I hope that makes sense. Most of the journalists who are beaten, jailed, have their equipment destroyed are men. However, fewer women are given the opportunity to cover the hard-hitting stories. I believe this is for two reasons, one - because many women who come to the newsroom are made/groomed to believe their place is in doing the softer stories and features so by default they hardly get to do the hard stories; two - even when they get to that place, the editors fear for their safety and prefer a man covers such stories.
My friends and family are mostly proud that I do this work. They however get nervous during the periods when there is clear animosity by the state towards the media, especially our media house. They ask me to be safe and not to do anything that would "get me into trouble".
What about the situation in Uganda would you most want the rest of the world to know? What stories do you believe are the most important to tell despite the violence against journalists?
The most important stories to tell are those about providing the truth to our audiences, letting them know why development has not occurred in certain areas, why actually the radiotherapy machine in the Cancer Institution keeps breaking down, why they are not able to receive the services they should receive such as healthcare or safe drinking water. The corruption is this country is sky-high. Money that should be used to cater for the people is stolen. Once the people especially those in the rural areas begin to understand who is stealing that money and how it affects them, they will begin to think hard about who to put into leadership from the lowest levels.
Hi Carol, This is very interesting. I am from Bangkok, Thailand. The free press suffers similar issue as Uganda, although I believe not as severe. The main concern for the country is similar to yours as well: why is development stagnant. I’m not sure what or how strict is the governance type/form is there. But Thailand is under constitutional monarchy. However, we have a le-majeste law which can punish anyone who offends the royals family. Giving the monarchy 100% power. Press cannot touch them, press owns them, in fact, this is very obvious because monarchy propaganda is spread through television. Which is the only thing poor people own, not the internet.
The stagnant of development, corruption, the elites’ desire to stay in power is also out of hands here. Free press is quite rare in Thailand, because you can get beat up or jailed anytime by powerful people. As a citizen myself, I am very careful before I post any political opinions on social media. My friends and I are making a documentary exposing Thai Education’s flaws, comparing different point of views across the pros and cons. We have to be very careful because Thai Education is one of the monarchy and the royal’s propaganda as well. We are still figuring out how to make the video as indirect but direct at the same time as possible.
So I guess by asking opinions from ordinary citizens can be powerful as well. With many many citizens’ voice all together, it could definitely create change. Thats how I see things are changing in Thailand. I dont know what will it be for Uganda, but I hope you’re safe and could see changes happening soon or later. Sending love.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, especially about your country Thailand, seeing that you have to be careful what you post, I am grateful you took the time to share the delicate experience in your country. I must say your comments have made me curious. I have read and watched about the Thai monarchy but not in in-depth. I shall definitely have to interest myself more in your country's development issues. It's worrying that many things are centred around the monarchy, especially in a way to do their bidding. Any monarchy or government should be open to criticism. Once it is not, this becomes a problem for the people. I like the idea of the documentary you and your friends are trying to make. And I agree with you, having different points of view will make it a more objective piece. That is something we struggle with in Uganda. Sometimes people are so upset with the government or opposition, they are not willing to listen to alternative points of view - which is what democracy is, isn't it?
If your documentary is finally done and uploaded online or is put somewhere others from the globe can see it, please be sure to let me know. I am very interested in watching it.
Sending love too u/asumpunk.
What are some of the challenges you face daily in Uganda?
Have you ever feared for your life? What was your most difficult story to publish?
The challenges include having equipment like cameras destroyed by the security organs, being jailed for "being in the wrong place at the wrong time", as well as having our media house shut down. I have not quite come to the point of fearing for my life, yet.
The difficult stories have been many, including publishing those of facts found of corrupt leaders. Interestingly, publishing stories about companies that are in trouble or have had corrupt practices can also be tricky because they will then pull advertising out. You have to take a deep breath, count the costs and do it.
Are things improving or getting worse for the press?
Things have gotten worse the last two years or so. Previously the press in Uganda was not treated the way they are now. We have had many journalists jailed and then released without being charged; beaten rather badly while doing their job and no one apprehended for the crime; and so on and so forth. With the rising discontent of the citizens and the growth of individual Opposition members, the state has come down hard when reporters cover events that highlight these issues.
Hi Carol, how are things there right now? What are the biggest misconceptions that people have for Uganda?
The situation is such that journalists are facing a harder time than before especially when it comes to covering certain events. Fake news is also a huge problem here, hence the need to sift through content thoroughly and ensure that the information you have is true and well contextualised.
Uganda is not a war zone. Most days than not, people are living their lives, building careers, getting married, raising children and going about their day. We might be termed as a developing nation and there are many basic things to get right but we are in a slightly better place than before.
Hello Carol, thanks for doing this!
When you do a story or cover an event, what do you have to keep in mind in order to be able to safely publish an informed article?
Verify, verify, verify! We are proud of the fact that we are journalists but truthfully speaking, we have sometimes gotten it wrong. So we first make sure we have all our facts. We triple check to make sure documents or whatever else we are using are authentic, quotes are correct and well contextualised, and pictures/photos are a true representation.
If it is a highly sensitive story, we also put feelers out there to see how what we want to publish will be received by those affected by the story. It gives us a good idea of the reception the story might get.
What do you suggest to readers do to make sure what they read is accurate and truthful?
I would suggest that they stick to reading, watching, and listening to media houses that have been known to consistently get things right. We have many TVs, radios and online news sites compared to a few years ago. Everyone wants a piece of the cake that the audience is. So many will do anything to get readers including using click bait, running stories without verifying them or even making stories up. This is why it is important to check with a media house whose products have proved over time to have the correct information, whenever any rumour or breaking news story comes up.
Readers should also read widely. Reading more than one source helps you learn different sides of the story and get different perspectives.
Also, they can and should be part of the process of making news. If they see anything they believe is not true, they should raise the matter with the publishing house by writing their opinion or a letter to the editor with the evidence they have, or just putting their thoughts down, or respectfully talk about it on social media.
This is a beautiful answer. Thank you for posting it.
If you could leave the country would you? Do you think you'd be welcomed in the West?
I believe I would be welcomed in the West, as long as I had all my documents in order. But no, I would not leave the country. The tougher it gets, the more I realise I need to keep doing my job because many more people do not have the opportunity I have or the knowledge. It is important that we keep feeding them with what they need to know.
Plus I really do love my country despite it's flaws. It is a beautiful place to live in.
From your perspective, what is the pathway for Ugandan press to obtain the legal protections it needs?
It is quite difficult to answer this. Many of the laws that protected freedom of expression in one way or another have been amended, while new ones that curtail what publishers can put out or be jailed for, have been introduced. One way is to challenge these laws in court, which is a long and arduous process but well worth it as some cases have been won. Another way is to have the media united when it comes to protecting the principles they stand for and the role they play in society. Having a united front will help us fight battles better and and professionally too.
What are some of your go to sources for world and local news when you're not at work? How do you think this differs from the average Ugandan?
Interesting question. Away from work, I actually try not to read or watch news too much because I do it for a living! When I do though, I go to the news apps on my phone to see what the news sources I trust are saying, such as BBC for world news. I also listen to the radio quite a bit, by default as my husband works with a radio and is constantly checking to see how they are doing. I also find a lot of the local news on WhatsApp. I do not use it to look for news but because many of the groups I am in are journalist ones, news always pops up in them.
I think the average Ugandan gets their news, both local and world, from social media, especially Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. Many especially in the rural areas rely on radio and the TV is still a big part of many people's homes, with the news bulletins at 7pm and 9pm being the most watched.
You mentioned in a response that having the media unite and stand for journalist principles could help with the progress of journalists' rights. Has that ever happened? And if so, how did it go?
We have not had the media stand as one against any one particular thing, at least during my career. However, some journalists have come under a loose umbrella we call Media Freedom Forum, where we discuss matters press freedom. The group, that came about because of a World Association of Newspapers (WAN-IFRA) project, mostly communicates on WhatsApp and has never really met physically. However using just that group, we have raised funds, written letters and statements presenting our thoughts and dismay over treatment of journalists and rallied together to do certain stories to spotlight the issues we face. This has shown some impact and we are proud of what we have done. This is why I believe if a group like this was made more formal with the blessing of the management of the media houses we belong to, we would do much more.
Are there any stories that you are particularly proud of having reported?
I have been an editor most of my career so there are few stories I have reported on. Perhaps I can talk about the stories I have been proud to have edited. One of those was a story - https://bit.ly/2zS5y9b - on why someone would kill their child. Having read many news stories of mothers and fathers killing their own children, I felt there was more to the cause than just a person who being labelled as "evil". I assigned a reporter then, Carol Atangaza to do the story. We went back and forth on it, looking for previous stories on the issues, sources, relatives of parents who had killed their own, and very importantly, psychiatrists. I edited it so many times I almost got tired of looking at it, but I wanted to get thing right.
Eventually we were done and passed it on to the weekend editor to run. I was proud of that story because it put a spotlight on mental illness in a way we had not done before.
How have you seen the rise of evangelical christianity in Uganda affect government policies?
Not really. There has been a rise of evangelical Christianity I would agree. But to the extent to which it affects government policies, it would be hard to say how so, if at all it has happened or indeed verify.
I want to pick up on your remark about WhatsApp. To what extent has social media changed the way news is delivered in your country? By social media I mean more than just Facebook or Reddit but also apps like Telegram and WhatsApp. It what ways has it changed how you interact with sources as well as how it has changed the way news is disseminated.
My goodnes u/happiness7734, social media has overturned the way news is delivered!! Like many countries world over, traditional media, especially print has been hit hard in Uganda. They are no longer the owners of breaking news as it was in the past. In Uganda, Facebook and WhatsApp are sources of news now. First, many sources break news on Twitter and Facebook. For example, the head of state, His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni, fired the Inspector General of Police, the highest ranking police authority on Twitter. He has also made remarks on Twitter as well as a blog post. The spokespersons of the police, and the army and other institutions also respond to issues or comments on these platforms. So people now use these sources to find out news these people are making.
WhatsApp especially is where news is broken. When people hear a rumour, the first place many go to is their WhatsApp app to see what is being said there. They will also check Facebook and Twitter. Many people will actually stay there. A good number will still check social media pages or websites of media houses that still have a big following and have proper news processes. Increasingly though, many will stay with what they see on social media and believe it. This is obviously a big problem when it comes to fake news. Telegram is not huge in this country as yet. However some people do use it. We at our media house, use it to disseminate news - links to the news stories on our sites.
Sources now also use WhatsApp to provide information, documents and so on. I think they feel it is safer and cannot be easily tracked. Also, if they are on the record, they use it as proof, in case a journalist has misquoted them. It is also faster. One is able to get so much, audios, documents, etc. within seconds as long as the internet connection is good. In fact some sources might not pick your call, but they will reply your WhatsApp messages.
Do you ever get any requests to remove content from your reporting site?
If so, what form does it come in? Demanding letters? Verbal/physical threats?
Have you ever pulled a story due to backlash?
Thanks for fighting the good fight. Stay safe!
Hello u/ihateflyingthings. (Interesting username!) Thanks for the kind thoughts. Yes, we have had requests to remove content from our website. To be honest, at least in my time, none of the requests have come from the state or government authorities. It is usually individuals or organisations who say that the story has damaged their reputation and is causing them a hard time in doing business or travelling abroad. It usually comes in form of requests from the individuals and they are usually requesting not demanding especially if the story is factual, but they just really want it down.
We have had to issue corrections in the paper when we get facts wrong. And because the website carries the print stories, we would have to pull down or make corrections in the story.
We have never pulled a story due to backlash. We have had however to remove posts or tweets from our social media due to backlash, sometimes because we might have gotten a thing or two wrong but also when our post is misunderstood by the audiences. I once had a minister call me and demand that I get a story on him off our website. He was upset that we constantly were writing about accusations against him on compensating traders who had lost money and merchandise in a neighbouring country. It was said that the process under him was not fair. That day we had run a story about him in Parliament being quizzed. He called several times, in about the space of two minutes, angry that we were always doing these stories. I told him it was privileged content as it was in Parliament and that we had both his and the accuser's side and that the story was objective and fair but he was not having that. He demanded that we take it down but I said unless we had gotten any facts wrong, we would keep it up. It was a tough time because he is a friend. But the story was correct and we were not putting it down unless we had legitimate cause to do so.
Have you ever had to sacrifice career advancement for a politically charged story, or any story in general?
I was once referred to as that "small girl" by a person high up in authority, when they were not happy with the stories we were doing, especially after the 2016 Presidential and Parliamentary elections. It was a little unnerving. But fortunately I haven't had to sacrifice career advancement.
It is u/leadboo!
Is it safe to report on China in Uganda? It seems more and more China and Western hedge funds are tying up resources that will hamper development down the line for Uganda
Right now u/Newmanshoeman, it is not unsafe to report on China. There have been a number of reports questioning the amount of money China is putting in the country and what this means for future generations. Our paper has run some stories questioning how ready we are to obtain loans from the Asian country and how the influx of Chinese has the local traders worried (see these: r/https://bit.ly/2PhCmNO; r/https://bit.ly/2E2e4WW). There is always a fear that we are getting into a lot of debt and there doesn't seem to be any plan of how we will not find ourselves bogged down or tied up years down the road.
Few questions: When you say “the press” are you specifically referring to news organizations within Uganda?
You mentioned “digital content”, is this in the form of a news website, tv show, radio broadcast, or something else?
It seems to me the Ugandan people need to get their news from a source that is not under threat of the government. A third party that reports all of the rough stories that the press in Uganda won’t touch. Maybe I’m simply naive, but I think the truth needs to be told.
Hello u/VapeTitans. Yes, when I say the press, I am referring to news organisations. Digital content refers mostly to news websites, live streams, podcasts (not so popular in Uganda yet) social media, e-paper and so on. And you are right, the truth needs to be told, in each country. Can I ask what you mean by "third party" or what examples you might have in mind?
Has the African Union done anything to improve (or attempt to improve) press freedom in its member states? If not, what could the AU do differently to be a force for good as concerns press freedom in Uganda.
Hi u/Ottoman_American I don't believe the African Union has done much to improve press freedom. To be honest, I am not sure right now, how much clout the AU has to get nations or heads of state stop harassing journalists or improve the state of press freedom, or of other things affecting the continent.
How do you feel about your current president (incumbent at the time) not showing up to your country's very first national democratic debate in 2016?
Hello u/teekytheclown. I was disappointed but not surprised that he did not show up for the first debate, and was actually surprised that he came for the second. I sometimes get the feeling that he believes some of these things are not for him. Which is why I was surprised he came for the second. I am not sure what informed his decision to show up for the second. My belief is that he read the mood after the first, the interest from the citizens in these elections and how many took it seriously and he decided to attend the second.
I know you’re here to talk about important stuff, but I want to hear about local music in Uganda. What are you listening to?
Hello u/daftmonkey! Always happy to talk about music! Uganda has changed it's taste in the last few years and listens a lot more to their local artistes than those from Congo and the west (especially US), which is good for the local artistes. So local music especially dance-hall, reggae and hip-hop are popular. Singers such as Bebe Cool, King Saha, Eddie Kenzo, Lydia Jasmine, Cindy, Irene Ntale, Vinka, Fik Fameica and many others receive lots of airplay on the radios and at events.
Do you think fear will ever stop you from doing your job?
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