The state of the media in Uganda has been the subject of several studies and commentaries. Whether critical or favourable, all attempts to analyze the health of journalism in the East African country tend to coalesce over its contradictions, as Stephen Ssenkabaa explains.

Uganda is a country with more than 200 radio stations, about a dozen free-to-air TV stations and an array of newspapers operate.

Cartoonists, comedians and satirists somehow pull off riveting parodies of public officials. It is the same country where the government, through the media and communications regulatory body – the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) – keeps a watchful eye on media activities, jumping at every opportunity to stifle journalistic freedoms. Last year, the government through UCC introduced mandatory registration for social media influencers and other online publishers to “enable enforcement of effective use of online space” in the country. The UCC spokesperson Ibrahim Bbosa indicated that content providers would, as part of this process, pay a USD20 fee (about Ugsh 75,000) in a policy that has been widely criticized as infringing on people’s freedom of expression.

But in a country where popular social media commentator Stella Nyanzi was recently jailed for 18 months on cyber harassment charges under the Computer Misuse Act 2011 – for calling out the excesses of the government, the message is clear to all: Media freedom here is to be enjoyed cautiously.

The punitive clauses of the Computer Misuse Act 2011 dangerously hang above the heads of some of Uganda’s most prolific writers, often waiting for the next critical article to tighten the noose around their creative necks. Joseph Kabuleta, probably, one of Uganda’s finest journalists (he has since left mainstream media) was last year arrested for his critical social media commentary on what he said was President Museveni’s ploy to prepare his son Lt. Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba to take over leadership of Uganda. In the same post, he predicted the downfall of what he called “The Mafia Empire”.

Nyanzi and Kabuleta are only a fraction of at least 33 Ugandans who were either summoned and interrogated by police or charged with online communication offences between 2016 and 2018. 

Unflattering score

They are also testament to Uganda’s unflattering scorecard on the international stage. The country was ranked 125th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ 2019 Press Freedom Index, falling 28 places since 2015.

The UCC is perhaps the subtler of the gagging machines of Uganda’s media. Other government bodies have been harsher in dealing with the media. In August 2018, Reuters Ugandan journalist James Akena was roughed up by three soldiers on the street of Kampala as he photographed street protests against the arrest of opposition politician and musician Robert Kyagulanyi popularly known as ‘Bobi Wine’.

Before this event, several high-handed closures of critical media houses have been witnessed, most notably the 2013 temporary closure of the Nation Media Group’s Monitor Publications following their publication of details of a leaked letter in which a senior army officer, General David Sejusa called for investigation into allegations that President Museveni was grooming his son Muhozi Kainerugaba to take over the presidency.

 NMG radio stations –KFM and Dembe FM were also closed and surrounded by police over the same story. Over the last two decades, more journalists from the Monitor – among them its founders, Charles Onyango Obbo, Wafula Oguttu and several others – were on many occasions, arrested and charged under draconian press laws.

Repressive laws

Repressive laws have been part of Uganda’s media landscape for such a long time. From the colonial times, critical press was frowned upon by the government and those in power. After independence in 1962, the media continued its love-hate relationship with the government, exhibited through intimidation and censorship throughout the 1960s and 70s. The press did not enjoy any ‘’peace’’ in Obote’s second government from 1980-85. In 1986, Museveni took over power, promising a “fundamental change”. The media served mostly as a government mouthpiece, with a few sprinklings of critical journalism from, ironically, the government owned New Vision. And oftentimes, Munno and Weekly Topic newspapers. The liberalization of the media in the early 90s opened up the space for private FM stations, TV stations and introduced the Monitor newspaper in 1992, probably Uganda’s most critical press. The space may have widened, but restrictions remained!

New media, new challenges

The last couple of years have seen newsrooms in Uganda struggle to negotiate the transition from traditional to internet-based media. On the one hand, the internet has opened up the media space, providing more options for newsrooms to innovate and try out new business and journalism models. On the other, the transition has met with great challenges: inadequate digital infrastructure and poor journalistic skills to navigate the new media terrain, reluctance by legacy minded journalists and media managers to embrace digital journalism, and high costs of implementing feasible digital strategies. Most importantly, the internet has decimated the traditional media market share. Print media organizations have been especially hit hard. With 16.9 million Ugandans (as per the UCC figures) out of 35million total population – already connected to the internet, a huge share of the once loyal traditional media audiences has been lost to internet news sources.

According to the Ipsos Media consumption and usage habits in Uganda report for the Half Year 2018, the percentage of Ugandans reading newspapers in 7 days has reduced from 29% in 2010 to 17% in 2014 and to 8% in 2018. Nationally the number of Ugandans who reported using the internet grew from 1% to 9%. The report also indicates that newspaper readership amongst the most economically active Ugandans reduced from 50% in 2014 to 22.5% in 2018. By comparison, internet consumption in this class has gone up to 32.75%. Television is at 62.25% while Radio is at 81%.

The number of Ugandans watching TV has grown from 27% to 34%. Although the number of Ugandans listening to radio dropped 11 percentage points from 98% to 89%, radio remains a dominant platform.

Waning revenue

In his April 2019 analysis, Muhereza Kyamutetera, a communication expert reports falling revenues for Uganda’s leading newspapers; The New Vision, Bukedde and Monitor Publications Limited. Citing a 12-year analysis he conducted from reports by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (South Africa), Muhereza observes that: “While combined circulation of three of Uganda’s leading dailies (The New Vision, Daily Monitor and Bukedde) grew by 4.3% from 74,862 copies in 2007 to 78,114 copies, minus Bukedde (a luganda daily), the two English dailies (Daily Monitor and The New Vision) lost 28.2% of their circulation- from 59,279 to 42,193 copies.”

Weekend newspapers, he says, lost 55.6% of their circulation from a combined total of 59,897 copies in 2007 to 26,560 copies in December 2018.   

“Monitor Publications Limited, the publishers of Daily Monitor and Sunday Monitor took a bigger fall. Daily Monitor lost 34% of its circulation, from 25,700 copies in 2007 to 16,941 in 2018 while Sunday Monitor saw 58.1% of their readership disappear – from 25,531 copies to 10,689 copies. Copies sold by The New Vision have fallen by 24.8% from 33,579 copies to 25,252 copies while Sunday Vision has lost 53% of its circulation- from 34,366 copies to 15,871 copies.”

Following this trend, he says, the next five years could be harder.

The impact of all this is showing on overall turnover and profitability. As well as quality of journalism.

Newsrooms for instance are unable to attract and sustain highly skilled journalists to produce thorough and authoritative journalism that the public requires. The resources to invest in investigative journalism have also shrunk, resulting in poor quality and shallow journalism. Because of this, the public’s trust in print media to produce quality, well researched and reliable journalism has reduced.

Way forward

The situation looks grim for the media until newsrooms embrace innovation, take up digital storytelling and forge workable business models. Solutions journalism that seeks to address the needs of the public will go a long way in winning back the lost public trust in the media. And if newsrooms find ways of monetizing this kind of journalism, the way New Vision has started with Harvest Money festivals where farmers are provided with key information to improve their yields, or the Seeds of Gold initiative by the Monitor- the future looks tricky.



About the Author


Author ProfileStephen Ssenkaaba
Stephen Ssenkaaba is an award-winning Uganda journalist. For more than 10 years, he has worked as a features writer, contributing editor and online journalist at New Vision Printing & Publishing Company Limited. He was a 2018/2019 Knight Wallace Journalism Research Fellow at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA where he worked on a research project entitled: “Inclusive online strategies for emerging newsmarkets.”

Similar articles


Enact policies that guarantee education for all

As Form One students settle into a new life in secondary school, this has also been a period of reflection. We have read tear-jerking and heart-warming stories of determined students who overcame many odds to get an education and how well-wishers came together in their aid.


RSF 2022 Press Freedom Index: A mixed bag for East Africa

Uganda fell behind, whereas Kenya improved its press freedom ranking in the Reporters Without Borders 2022 Press Freedom Index. And after years of media freedom decline, Tanzania appears to be on the right track. But overall, media freedom activists say there is still work to be done.


Good journalism does not come cheap

A free and independent press is the cornerstone of any democracy and the foundation of economic success, mostly because through our free press, we’re able to hold the leadership to account.


Opinion: Rethinking media houses revenue streams in the Digital era

To align with the changing times and stay relevant in the business, media houses are challenged to rethink their strategy and to adopt and understand obstacles and challenges they face towards rethinking and exploring alternative sources of revenue and on developing the digital strategy.


Hamasa Media Group: Tanzanian innovators with a solution to organisation management

A team of young, Tanzanian tech-savvy communication professionals is dreaming big. It seeks to usher a new dawn in media business management in Tanzania by optimising employee output and offering consultancy to media businesses on how they can operate with a minimal budget but still attain their goals.


The legal challenges facing East Africa’s bloggers and influencers 

Bloggers and influencers have become an integral component of information sourcing across East Africa. The public uses blogs, privately run websites and social networks to crowdsource information from social networks, which they then publish and distribute. But it’s not all rosy for this group of content makers.


Afyatoon: How two medics are transforming lives through story-telling

The chances of meeting a medical graduate practising journalism are usually very slim, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. But two Tanzanian physicians have broken away from that norm by inventing a start-up called Afyatoon. It uses visual art technology to tell compelling medical stories. They narrate to the EAST Site their experience and share their vision for the future.


Five astounding findings from the MCK state of Kenya’s Media Survey

Did you know that in 2021 Kenyans watched less TV and spent more time on social media? Or that some Kenyans rely on family, friends, or even social media icons and bloggers as a source of news and information? These are some of the conclusions highlighted in the 2021 State of the Media Survey conducted by the Media Council of Kenya (MCK).


Uganda’s media strives to reinvent itself post Covid-19

The effects of the Covid pandemic continue to change the world in ways we had not imagined possible. The media is going through a painful transformation to keep up with changing production, distribution and consumption habits. In East Africa, Uganda’s Media Challenge Initiative (MCI) recently hosted a panel discussion on Media Viability comprising experienced journalists from Television, Radio, Print and Online/Digital media to address lessons learned from the pandemic. East Site’s Moses Mutente attended the panel and compiled this article.


Opinion: Africa must revamp journalism education to include media ownership

In this commentary, Uganda-based journalist Caleb Okereke shares deep personal insights into why media schools in East Africa must rethink their curriculum. He stresses the need for trainers to begin teaching media ownership to better equip journalism students for the dynamic and cutthroat job market by taking us through his journey as a journalism student and media owner.


Dwindling trust in media raises concerns ahead of Kenya’s General Election

For the second year running, a survey commissioned by the Media Council of Kenya shows that the trust level in Kenyan media has nosedived, raising fundamental questions on how media will play its watchdog role more so with landmark elections set for August 9. EAST Site writer Isaac Swila explores.


Opinion: Media needs credibility to survive the pandemic and digital transformation

Legacy media is currently caught between a rock and a hard place — the Covid pandemic and the rise and proliferation of social media has hit revenues hard. Some say this could signal the end of news as we used to know it. However, Ugandan decorated journalist Ernest Bazanye believes the industry will survive and thrive, but not without a fight.


Opinion: We should all be concerned about the future of media

Free media is often described as the fourth estate, the gatekeeper, the whistleblower, and many more. American singer Jim Morrison once said, “whoever controls the media, controls the mind.” No wonder governments worldwide try hard to control the press. But the media itself, particularly in Uganda, faces a severe identity crisis that requires urgent action, writes guest commentator Jimmy Spire Ssentongo.


Invest in journalists’ verification skills to help curb disinformation, expert Redondo advises

World over, disinformation is a virus that continues to permeate newsrooms giving media managers and journalists a headache on how to deal with it. Dr. Myriam Redondo,  a newsroom trainer in digital verification and associate professor in International Relations (PhD) explains how to tackle the virus in an engagement with EAST Site writer Isaac Swila.


Opinion: Never lose sight of your vision when fundraising 

No one sits down to write proposals only to seek money. There’s an idea, a vision, an important goal, the need for impact, and last but not least, the need for change.


Media faulted over its coverage of people living with disabilities 

According to the World Health Organisation there are between 60-80million people with disabilities in Africa and over 1 billion in the world, many of whom live under deplorable conditions owing to societal myths.


How Kenyan journalists are preparing for the 2022 General Election 

Kenyan voters will go to the polls on August 7, 2022, to elect new leaders. As expected, the media is burning the midnight oil, trying to develop strategies to cover the polls. But how prepared are they?


Tanzania: Striving for women digital inclusion

Tanzania has a massive digital gender gap. As a result, it is unlikely to hear stories about successful Tanzanian women, either in leadership or the media.


Three reasons why a Human Centred Design is necessary for innovation

Ultimately, HCD is a toolbox containing multiple tools you can pick out, show your team how to use them, and ensure it becomes best practice


Meet the Tanzanian journalist passionate about the right to clean water and sanitation

Mohammed Hammie is not your typical reporter. In 2019, the young Tanzanian swapped from being a regular journalist to media for community empowerment and has since specialised in telling stories about the human right to access clean drinking water, particularly in rural areas.


Kenya’s Media Council defends move seeking journalists quit before vying for election

According to the MCK Chief Executive Officer, David Omwoyo, journalists eyeing political posts should be subjected to the same rules that apply to civil servants. That is to leave office six months to elections. But that’s not the only requirement.


AKU students media research spotlights hits and misses of Kenya’s media

The theses dwelt on thematic areas in Kenya’s media landscape, from solutions journalism, content analysis of the coverage of Covid-19 as well as data smog in the newsrooms, which  the findings show is having a devastating effect on print journalists.


Media Viability Study East Africa: Five interesting findings you should know

The study calls for solutions to structural, political, and societal conditions that jeopardize the future of media as a viable business and a source of high-quality journalism in East Africa


Covid-19: Kenyan journalists go behind the story

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic has altered our lives in unimaginable ways. Economies are bleeding. It has disrupted learning; millions have lost their jobs, while many others contend with reduced salaries. Yet, amidst the chaos and disruption, journalists – also hugely affected – have remained steadfast to their cause to tell stories of the pandemic. Some of them narrated their experiences to EAST site’s writer Isaac Swila.


OPINION: Modern journalism faces an existential threat

The Covid-19 pandemic and the technological shifts have caused severe consequences to today’s press. However, Prof George Nyabuga says the writing has long been on the wall, yet many chose to bury their heads in the sand like the proverbial ostrich.


East Africa’s media powerhouses use convergence in business to stay afloat 

Ever since 170 journalists from Kenya’s Standard Group were made redundant in 2020, media experts argue that convergence of business processes in the media industry is an inevitable and necessary step. The term convergence has dominated media houses for years. But what does it mean and why is it crucial for the future of journalism in the region?


The changing face of Kenyan newsrooms – a case of Standard Media Group

The digital and social media experience has disrupted the media industry in unprecedented ways. Gone are the days when media houses could solely rely on revenues generated from the sale of content, for example, newspapers. Kenya’s Standard Media Group understood the need to adapt to the ‘new digital newsroom’ and embarked on a three-year- restructuring programme, but the change is not without challenges as Peter Oduor found out


Paywall: A challenging but promising business model for Kenya’s news media 

Kenya’s leading newspapers – The Nation, Star, and The Standard, recently set up paywalls on their online content. Though some readers are complaining, the uptake has been impressive. Senior editors who spoke to EAST Site’s writer, Isaac Swila, insist the paywall is the future.


How audience participation has changed the media 

What do Kenya’s post-election violence, Sudan’s protests that toppled President Omar al-Bashir, and the Arab Spring have in common? The audience played a crucial role in informing the world where journalists were restricted in one way or the other. Today, direct audience engagement in the news cycle has brought far-reaching changes to the media industry.


MCI Uganda: Grooming journalists for the 21st century job market

The belief that journalism can make the world a better place is why the Media Challenge Initiative exists. This aspiration has become more evident during Covid-19, where journalists are at the frontlines of fighting the pandemic across the globe.