UNESCO Strengthens Ugandan Journalists Capacities on Peace and Conflict Sensitive Journalism

Over the years, Rwenzori sub-region has experienced a series of violent conflicts in Uganda. With the media being at the forefront of its coverage, lives of journalists have been at risk, due to unprofessionalism in reporting and increased irresponsible use of social media leading to fueling of the conflict by citizens in the region.

UNESCO supported the Rwenzori Media Development Foundation (RMDF-Uganda) to strengthen capacities of journalists and social media influencers on peace and conflict sensitive journalism and on responsible use of social media platforms on 23 to 24 May 2022 and on 26 to 27 May 2022 in in Fort Portal City and Kasese District in Rwenzori region in Uganda.

Speaking at the opening of the workshop, Mr. Martin Kibaba, the Executive Director at Rwenzori Media Development Foundation (RMDF), stated that: “Today we are here to remind ourselves of our roles as journalists in conflict situations and to appreciate the importance of having peace and stability in our region. And it is my hope that you leave here with tools that can assist you in the vital work you do for this country, this region and the millions of its citizens who look to you for truth.”

Rev. Isaac Mwandara, Bishop of Rwenzori Diocese in Fort Portal urged journalists to be responsible in their reporting. He said: “Our communities have been torn apart which is not necessary. We need to mend our society. The task essentially rests on the shoulders of journalists. This will help us live together in peace and harmony as a people. In your reporting, be factual, report responsibly, do not use inflammatory language, and do not instigate hate, prejudice and violence in reporting the news.”

In Kasese district, Hon. Joseph Kule Muranga, the Prime Minister of the Rwenzururu Kingdom called on media practitioners to play an active role in fostering peace through their stories in Rwenzori. He said: “We need peace today more than ever, more than anything else. Our region is developing at a very slow pace because we spend a lot of time conflicting over petty issues. Therefore, this training for community journalists and social media people is timely. We need a cadre of young people, people with power and influence to help change the mindsets of our people through positive journalism.”

The training workshop encouraged objective reporting of issues devoid of fanning the flames of conflict in Rwenzori region in Uganda. Dr. William Tayeebwa, Head of the Journalism and Communication at Makerere University and a facilitator of the workshop said: “More often the media had been used as propaganda machinery to favour people in authority as against their conscience. Media practitioners are sometimes in a dilemma to report facts, which could heighten tension, or moderate his reportage to foster peace in a conflict situation.”

In order to motivate and encourage peace reporting, Mr. Kibaba officially launched a peace-reporting contest to motivate and encourage peace reporting; where the best three peace stories will see their authors win prizes. He said: “Don’t just go and sleep on these skills we are imparting in you. We are here to enhance your capacities. To give you the knowledge and skills you need to do good journalism, peace journalism in this case. So go out and put the gained skills into practice by telling good and positive stories of peace.”

ASP Kaawo Ismail, Police Spokesperson in Rwenzori East, stressed the important role of journalists in peace building and called for a mutual working relationship and collaboration with journalists. He said: “It is our responsibility to make sure that our region is peaceful. Do not just leave it to security agencies and the government. It really requires that all of us get involved in this and in particular, on how we cover these conflicts and peace processes as journalists.” He further urged them to be responsible in their reporting saying that they should help in promoting peace in the region.

At the workshop, participants explored what conflict is, the sources of conflict, stages, effects, the role of the media in conflict, conflict analysis tools, gender and conflict reporting, and strategies/principles of conflict sensitive reporting. They were also sensitized on responsible use of social media platforms to mitigate conflict in Rwenzori region in Uganda,

At the end of the workshop, Christine Kyarikunda, News Editor at Voice of Kamwenge, a community radio station in Kamwenge district said: “Today, I’ve learned a lot about how I can promote peace through my reporting and also ensure that every word I say or write is context and gender-sensitive. Although I have attended numerous media trainings, many of them don’t look at the gender dimensions and biases that can be embedded in conflict sensitive reportage.”

Simon Bikeke, a freelance journalist stated that: “This training has equipped me to stay focused and feed my audience with the right information about peace and post-conflict issues. Thanks to RMDF and UNESCO for making this happen.”

The training was organized in close partnership with Peace and Human Rights Media Network and the Center for Investigative Reporting of Uganda. It benefitted a total of 80 community journalists and 20 social media influencers from drawn Kasese, Fort Portal, Kyenjojo, Kyegegwa, Bundibugyo, Bunyangabu, Kamwenge and Ntoroko districts in Rwenzori Region in Uganda.

This intervention was supported by UNESCO International Programme for the Development of Communication, the only multilateral forum in the UN system designed to mobilize the international community to not only discuss and promote media development but also seek an accord to secure a healthy environment for the growth of free and pluralistic media in developing countries.