A narration by members of Western Media for Environment and Conservation (WEMECO) explaining how the COVID19 pandemic that broke out in 2019 in China has affected their personal and professional lives reveals the extent to which journalists have endured the wrath of coronavirus and how it has negatively affected them.
From directly suffering from the disease to losing employment, journalists in Uganda have gone through a myriad of challenges directly resulting from the occurrence of COVID19, a pandemic that has ravaged the world leaving over 5m people dead globally and still counting.
Speaking at a members meeting sponsored by International Pollutants Elimination Network (IPEN), journalists who subscribe to WEMECO a local nongovernment organization bringing together environmental focused journalists, revealed touching tales of how journalists were negatively affected by the pandemic.
Peter Akugizibwe, the executive director of WEMECO, explained that when COVID19 happened with related restrictions, journalists, especially freelancers lost their jobs while many fully employed journalists also lost their jobs as their employers resized and cut down on spending. Many had to work from home, he adds.
“When COVID19 came, journalists were faced with many challenges, especially during the first wave. Many had to adapt to working from home and the associated technology. They had to conduct meetings via internet platforms like on zoom,” Akugizibwe said.
Drake Nyamugabwa reveals that after a thorough battering by the pandemic, many journalists had to be innovative and look for ways of working and surviving. “I had to use online means to work. I had to get internet data or free WIFI so I can work. Sometimes we had to walk distances one has never walked before to get a story,” he says.
While he was struggling with journalism in the pandemic, Nyamugabwa was introduced to poultry farming by a friend and this has helped him establish an alternative income.
Charles Kazoba, who at the time COVID19 struck was recovering from a blood clot, was hit harder as now he was in more need of money because he hadn’t been working. And like Nyamugabwa, Kazoba turned to the internet. He embarked on research to find out how COVID19 was affecting media houses.
From his interface with managers of media houses, he noted that the entire media was struggling. “Media houses were not paying their reporters and didn’t care if the reporters reported for work,”
As a member of the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) Kazoba and UJA mobilized for food that was distributed to journalists who were struggling. Meanwhile, he had to find a way to survive; that is when he started an online publication.
Time had come for journalists to be creative and stop relying on media houses that employed them, this he said, will empower them and be more self-reliant.
Mary Kyakuwa, who was volunteering at a media house, when COVID19 forced many to work from home, the people where she was volunteering no longer needed her services and cut off the benefits she was getting. It is at the time that she turned to bake and has not stopped to date.
Doreen Ndeezi, the chairperson of WEMECO has called on journalists to be self-motivated and be able to be journalistically productive from wherever they are. Wherever you are, something is happening; you can get a story which you can publish, Ndeezi, a senior journalist advised.
She called on journalists to report matters of COVID19 responsibly so that they don’t cause fear and panic in society.
Kennedy Mugume, a member of WEMECO, noted that while COVID19 has had a big hit on a young WEMECO, the organization has been able to officially register and become a legal entity, started keeping books of accounts, secured a bank account, built alliances and got funding for some activities.
The executive director of Bio Vision Africa, Geoffrey Kamese, one of the organizations that have supported WEMECO was upbeat that the organization can attract funding an indication that people put their trust in you and can associate with you.
“It is important in civil society, to be honest. Funders put in money and they want to see results. If you are not honest, you don’t deliver. You must be result-oriented and show that things are happening for every resource you get,” he advised.