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How Ugandan Media Houses Are Trapped in Debt; Surviving on NRM Handouts

How Ugandan Media Houses Are Trapped in Debt; Surviving on NRM Handouts

Towards the end of last year, the office of the Rwandan President took a number of Ugandan journalists on a tour of Rwanda and also to offer coverage to the annual retreat aka Umushyikirano. Among the media entourage were journalists from NBS TV. The NBS TV crew consisted of 10 journalists and camera men some of whom included Joseph Sabiiti, Canary Mugume and the CEO himself, Kin Kariisa.

It was in Rwanda that Kin Kariisa made a proposal to the president of Rwanda, Paul Kagame about NBS TV’s expansion into Rwanda. But not only that, NBS TV Rwanda would operate in a special partnership that would complement the roles of the National Rwanda broadcaster, RTV.

It is believed that discussions are now in the pipeline to enable the smooth expansion of the station into one of Africa’s fastest growing economies.

However back home, the situation has not been as rosy as it is painted. Despite recruiting a number of journalists from rival NTV, the station has been grappling with a huge wage bill. In 2016, the maintenance of these big salaries proved very hard for the station whose revenues had not grown to match its capacity growth. Thus the expansion into Rwanda now remains the only option that will save a number of jobs at the station. “It is either we expand into Rwanda and transfer some staff there or we face the hard decisions of downsizing,”one of the NBS top managers revealed to us.

Meanwhile at NTV Uganda, the mergers between the TV, the Radio and the Newspaper has put many jobs at stake. One of those could be Aggie Konde’s job. Konde has been the most successful MD of NTV Uganda yet many doubt she would be entrusted to handle the new centralized operations of Nation Media Group in Uganda. Not only that, the corporate life of NTV staff has left many bankrupt. “Some of us are taking home just 100K a month. Most of our money is still servicing the car loans that we took on. We were forced to take these vehicle asset financing loans in a bid to keep up with the corporate image that NTV espouses but at a challenging cost,”a flamboyant TV Presenter tells us. Again what will be the future of NTV Uganda?

When we get to the Newspaper world, the stories are even scarier. Sales of Vision Group papers have been shrinking yet the opportunities promised by digital transitions have not matured as fast as earlier imagined. Kampala Sun has not posted any profit for more than a year. It has operated under losses and the company will sooner than later have to swallow its pride and close it. Bukedde the once super performing Newspaper has also suffered a massive reduction in sales. It all started with increments in the cost of the paper. There has been a certain law that any losses in newspaper sales are never recovered even though the price were to be returned to the original mark. Most of Bukedde’s readers are very price sensitive. Any slight increment will see them give up on buying that paper for a much cheaper one. Coupled with that are the unloyal habits of Ugandan newspaper readers. They will always shift bases should one take them for granted.

Still at Vision Group, Urban TV has failed to break even. X-FM on the other hand has taken out much more than it will ever bring in. At this moment, it is only the printery that is reliable. The Group has now gone beyond just being a media led organization to one that uses media to promote its other ventures. To keep in businesses, workers havs been laid off, and the company now deals more in events than anything.

The Red Pepper has been in a continuous struggle. To survive, they have had to accept and adopt plagiarism as their editorial policy. They will copy and paste anything that lools like news from social media or online sites. Some workers there have gone months without pay, very similar to the situation in Rwanda for a certain Ugandan Magazine there. Although the Red Pepper bosses have fattened, their employees now leave through fleecing where they threaten to release a story in exchange for money.

The Observer on the other hand went slow on its plans to become a daily choosing to keep at the tri-weekly level. Last year they lost over 18 computers, laptops and cameras in a robbery. They are yet to recover from that theft. Despite pleas from Standard Group Kenya, they are still hesitant to sell off. Time and again, negotiations between the two have fallen apart with most of the directors opposed to the sale of The Observer. Could they be scared of a repeat of what happened when NMG acquired The Monitor Newspaper? They also can’t go daily when they have no printer of their own.

And the media has had its anormalies such as the closure of WBS TV or rather the buy-out. There are stations like Top TV where employees have gotten used to working for no salary.

Does the online side promise a future? It seems many online media houses are yet to break even. They have not been as disruptive as many had thought. One still has to get a hard copy newspaper to get deep news analysis. The Independent Magazine has plans of launching its first online newsroom. Will this be disruptive? Many online media houses don’t have clear employee policies and agreements. Employees depending on how the owners wish. Many quit earlier than expected. Corporate organizations are yet to take the digital papers serious choosing to give them very little in advertisement revenues, taking years to process LPOs and some frauding them in the process.

All in all, the current state of the media in Uganda will need a certain shift in the way of doing things, perhaps invent new models and pray that they produce results lest they burn their fingers.

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Tracie Mugisha is a lovey-dovey prying eye pursuing her Bachelor's degree at Makerere University while capturing all the news and gossip happening around campus.

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