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Why I left the newsroom for politics

Coming face to face with governance issues pushes Ugandan journalists to join politics to push for change. Sarah Biryomumasisho interviews journalists who left the fourth estate for the legislature on their motivations

 

Fifteen years ago, Joyce Bagala began her journalism career as a newsreader. Now she is a politician, who intends to use her new status as a member of parliament to push policies for media and women. 

Before being voted in as Woman MP of Mityana District, Bagala spent 15 years in the newsroom as a writer, anchor, editor and supervisor. She took part in media forums that engaged government and non-governmental institutions on matters affecting media professionals, including media laws and policy frameworks. But she felt she could do more in parliament. Moreover, the feeling that Mityana District, which she now represents, was getting a raw deal, pushed her to join politics.

“Seeing that the issues of my community don’t get the attention they deserve moved me to join politics. I wanted to serve,” said Bagala, adding that the people of Mityana were getting politicians and not leaders, and that women, in particular, were getting a raw deal.

Bagala told AWiM News that even though her position in media did play a role in getting her into politics, her professionalism helped her more.

“I received a lot of feedback about my professional conduct; people told me I was cut out to be a leader and media provided the platform for my community to see the leader in me,” she said, adding that being in media does not guarantee that one will win a political seat. 

“It’s more about one’s qualities and capabilities,” she said.

 

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Mityana District Woman Representative Joyce Bagala during campaigns for the seat in 2020. She won the seat on her second attempt. PHOTO | SUPPLIED

Bagala threw her hat into the ring in 2016 but lost to the current Minister of Information and National Guidance. Like many other journalists who try to join politics unsuccessfully, Bagala went back to the newsroom after losing the seat. She told AWiM News that bias was not an issue.

“I’m a professional journalist, so I didn’t have much trouble getting back to journalism. At no point did the issue of putting partisan politics before my profession arise. I am a naturally balanced and objective person: In fact, this is partly why I rose into management roles. These virtues have played a big role,” she said.

While Bagala focused on journalism, she was not done with politics yet. She ran against the same opponent again in January 2021 and won the seat.

“My involvement in the 2021 election was merely a continuation of the same journey I had started prior to the 2016 elections. My conviction was and still is that Mityana can be better than it is today. It has all it takes – from diverse natural resources to productive human resources. My conviction couldn’t let me give up on my goal to facilitate a process of connecting the people and their resources. I was determined to work with the people in Mityana to confront the challenges as well as leverage the opportunities,” said Bagala, adding that she lives by the philosophy that winners are persistent in the face of obstacles and never quit.

Plans to champion fourth estate reforms

Now that she is at the seat of law-making, she says she will advocate for the media industry to be an all-inclusive industry with policies governing the profession. She also feels well-placed to make a change in policies affecting women.

“I plan to champion reforms that will get journalists to be better compensated and reforms that will ensure a constructive relationship between media players and entities such as government. Currently, media has been relegated to the periphery and is often seen as a threat. My plan is to champion changes to ensure that the media reclaims its place as the fourth estate. It is the duty of government to nurture quality space for media owners and practitioners.” 

Former radio host Mr Mosh

Joyce Bagala was not the only journalist who vied for a political seat and won. Many others, such as Ssendi Mosh, who goes by the name Mr Mosh, vied for local council leadership. Mosh, a radio and TV presenter vied to represent Makindye East III, Ggaba and Kansanga, which are in Kampala City. Mosh told AWiM News that he didn’t join politics, but rather, he stood for a leadership position and won.

“It has been my dream to be directly involved in the management of our country. As a journalist covering opposition candidate  Robert “Bobi Wine” Kyagulanyi’s campaigns three years ago, I got the awakening I needed,” said Mosh, adding that because journalists are directly exposed to the day-to-day running of government business and many believe, they can push for change where it is needed.

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DR. YEMISI AKINBOBOLA

C.E.O & Co-founder, AWiM

Dr Yemisi Akinbobola is an award-winning journalist, academic, consultant and co-founder of African Women in Media (AWiM). AWiM’s vision is that one-day African women will have equal access to representation in media. Joint winner of the CNN African Journalist Award 2016 (Sports Reporting), Yemisi ran her news website IQ4News between 2010-14.
Yemisi holds a PhD in Media and Cultural Studies from Birmingham City University, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She has published scholarly research on women’s rights, African feminism, and journalism and digital public spheres. She was Editorial Consultant for the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 commemorative book titled “She Stands for Peace: 20 Years, 20 Journeys”, and currently hosts the book’s podcast.
She speaks regularly on issues relating to gender and media. In 2021 she was recognized as one of 100 Most Influential African Women.