141 rural based journalists in five subregions in Northern and Eastern Uganda were trained to effectively report on digital inclusion for the vulnerable groups of people. Editors, and reporters working with Print, radio, television, and online news platforms attended the trainings held in Arua, Gulu , Lira, Moroto and Soroti districts. The training sessions tackled under coverage of stories on digital exclusion among vulnerable groups of people like rural women, persons living with disabilities, illiterates, and the youth. Among other topics discussed in the training were-Digital security for media houses and journalists, and digital literacy for rural based journalists. The training was aimed at promoting the role of professional journalism in establishing and sustaining digital inclusion for marginalized people in the rural areas of Uganda, by increasing stories reported on digital exclusion of marginalized groups of people. The training was conducted by Media Focus on Africa with support from the Africa Digital Rights Fund through CIPESA.n
Felix Warom, chief of Bureau of Daily Monitor in West Nile said that his team will be more intentional about featuring stories on digital exclusion of vulnerable people in the news. He called upon journalists to get out of their reporting comfort zones by reaching out to the marginalized groups of people for their views on the ongoing digital developments. Mr. Warom was among the journalists trained to report on digital inclusion.
Joseph Akiiso of Etop radio said that the digital inclusion training has not only improved the way the radio station involves women in their programming, it has greatly supported the way their female journalists report and present the news.
“Our female journalists have become content creators and distributors. Their earnings have improved and they have become competitive in the job market. We have prepared our female journalists for the future, since digital media is the future and the future is now.” Says Joseph Akiiso
“Digital inclusion was a subject I avoided to report about because it was so complex. This training has opened my eyes to the stories all around us and how to make those stories relatable to the audiences and the duty bearers.” Timothy Eodu, reporter Karamoja News
This training was the 4th edition of the Uganda Media Week regional media trainings and dialogues held annually in the key cities across the country, to refresh the reporting skills of journalists on specific issues. Previous topics covered in the regional media trainings include reporting on; elections, accountability, gender sensitive reporting, post covid recovery of media houses
Media Focus on Africa collaborated with United Nations Capital Development Fund to produce training content and materials. Previously the two organizations worked together to train journalists online about covering digital inclusion in Uganda. UNCDF’s Steven Waiswa joined MFA’s Jan Ajwang and Ruth Nagudi facilitated training the training sessions.
Stephen Waiswa, UNCDF’s Regional Technical Specialist- Digital Financial services (East & southern Africa) defined the complex terms like digitization, digital divide, digitalization, digital transformation, digital inclusiveness, and digital economies. In his presentation, he Contextualized digital transformation in Uganda and the importance of digital inclusion. Mr. Waiswa elaborated the implications of digital transformation, existing digital gaps and made recommendations on how they can be filled.
Jan Ajwang, Media Focus on Africa’s Project Manager handled topics on identifying marginalized groups of people, digital safety for media houses and journalists, reporting stories on digital exclusion across multimedia platforms. In her presentation, she demonstrated how journalists can leverage one story to increase audiences across multimedia platforms, and how the stories can be written to compel action from the duty bearers.
Ruth Nagudi, Projects Coordinator facilitated an interactive session on Story ideas of underreported stories on digital exclusion of marginalized groups of people. Participants were divided into 4 groups to discuss and present on the Strengths, Weaknesses , Opportunities and Threats to digital inclusion in Uganda. After participants’ presentations, Ms. Nagudi facilitated the session on how journalists could turn SWOT analysis into stories that could increase reporting on digital inclusion
Hindrances to reporting news stories on digital inclusion
Journalists pointed out structural, infrastructural, skills and illiteracy related obstacles as the main hinderances to effective coverage of stories on digital inclusion. Among other key reasons for not reporting on digital exclusion are fear of media houses losing their main advertisers- telecommunications companies and government bodies who are directly related to the infrastructural imbalances. Journalists are not in position to independently report on such exclusions by people based in remote rural areas because the story involves an advertiser on their media platforms.
Digital exclusion stories new government initiatives that require registration of beneficiaries online, a journalist shared an example difficulty to register for parish model registration in Agago district and other remote areas partly due to lack of internet to connect to the registration system, and when the smart phone batteries run out there is no electricity to recharge the registration devices.
Relatedly, news stories exposing gaps in digital interventions by government cannot be broadcast or published because most of the media houses are owned by the members of the ruling political party (National Resistance Movement). The media owners are either Members of parliament or former ministers.
High cost of media tools has digitally marginalized the journalists. A basic photo camera costs a minimum of one million Uganda Shillings, while a video camera costs over two million shillings, amounts that are much higher than what rural based journalists earn from journalism. Most journalists cannot afford to buy their own gadgets like cameras, laptops, and voice recorders to aid them in collecting stories. Rural based media houses have limited gadgets that have to be shared by all the journalists. For example, West Nile Press Association has one desktop that is shared by all the journalist members who do not have personal laptops. Despite the increase in alternative cheaper smart phones on the market, some journalists revealed that they took long to own smart phones because they had to save for them for a long time, others did not own smart phones at the time of the training. Lack of access to news collecting tools is a huge obstacle to reporting on digital exclusion.
The high cost of data bundles has compelled some journalists to limit their journalism practice to reporting for radio rather than reporting for online news platforms or print that requires one to continuously file stories via email or uploading them to the news websites. Majority of the rural based media houses do not provide internet services for the employees so the journalists have to improvise by buying their own data. Daily data bundles cost between five hundred Uganda shillings to five thousand Uganda shillings while the monthly data bundles start from five thousand Uganda shillings to one hundred and fifty thousand shillings.
The transport facilitation availed to journalists enable them to cover stories closer to their media houses. They cannot travel to news sources in remote areas, or to those far from their media houses. This has further marginalized voices of the marginalized groups of people in the news. Journalists continue to prioritize voices of politicians, leaders and professionals as news sources while ignoring voices of marginalized groups of people. Hellen Onepur, a news reporter and talk show host pointed out that journalists need to go an extra mile to find rural women news sources by finding them in the gardens or in their kitchens at home.
Cultural structures that continue to marginalize women, and persons with disabilities. It was reported by some journalists that women decline to participate in news or dialogues without having permission form their husbands.
Language barrier between journalists and persons living with disability, in this case the deaf. Among the 141 journalists trained, none had knowledge nor experience with sign language. A Lira based news reporter for online news platform pointed out the need for media houses to facilitate sign language interpreters whenever journalists are interviewing deaf news sources.
Some journalists lack digital skills to operate digital tools for news gathering. Rural based journalists are lagging behind on digital skills because most trainings target urban based journalists in the central region. Some journalists are technophobic, and prefer to continue using the old technology that they are used to. It’s worse for the marginalized groups of people who have never gained exposure to devices like computers nor smart phones. Most of who are illiterate lessens their chances of digital literacy which requires possession basic reading and writing skills.
Participating journalists made recommendations of topics they would like to be trained on; more sessions on digital safety, mobile phone reporting, access to information and how to generate revenue through reporting on digital inclusion
From the journalists’ responses to the post evaluation form, it is clear that more trainings in digital inclusion and rights are needed to empower journalists to increase reporting on digital issues. This can be achieved through designing trainings to focus on specific marginalized groups of people and their digital needs. Journalists also expressed the need for digital mentorship sessions, and training of trainers from different newsrooms. WhatsApp groups were created to keep the conversation going, and to share stories on digital inclusion.