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Why journalists seeking out minority and indigenous voices is ever so important

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By Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group

As traditional media business models continue to be disrupted by the digital world, media organizations are restructuring and cutting costs. Bureaus are either being downsized or scraped entirely. Little or no resources are being availed to journalists to travel to remote areas to access extremely important stories of our time.

In many African countries, disadvantaged ethnic minorities and indigenous peoples often live in remote places. These communities face different challenges, ranging from land rights to the lack of basic social services. As media organizations cut their budgets, such issues in remote areas are increasingly disappearing from media spaces as travel budgets are slashed.

As human rights organizations working to illuminate the voices of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples, such as Minority Rights Group International (MRG), the media is an important ally.

Cognisant of the situation facing media organizations, it is therefore imperative for human rights organizations to proactively offer support to journalists who are interested in telling minority and indigenous stories. If these journalists cannot tell these important stories, human rights organizations lose an important partner in awareness-raising and advocacy.

Embracing this approach, MRG Africa recently supported three Ugandan journalists to access Batwa communities in the country’s Kanungu district.

The Batwa are a historically marginalised minority community in Uganda. Their eviction from their ancestral lands in the name of conservation, has relegated them to the fringes of society. The community faces discrimination from larger ethnic groups they live amongst.

Geoffrey Mutegeki, a journalist with the New Vision newspaper, had heard about the plight of the Batwa before, but had never directly interfaced with members of the vulnerable community in the south-western region.

‘I can write about the Batwa from an informed point of view. I have listened to the lived experiences of these vulnerable people. This feels different from when you get information from sources like reports,’ he said during the visit.

‘It is almost as if the rest of the country forgot about the Batwa. We need to keep their plight in the news until something is done.’

Working with local partner, Action for Batwa Empowerment Group (ABEG), MRG took the journalists to Batwa settlements, from where they had detailed field interviews with members of the community.

Ronald Musoke, who works for The Independent, a Ugandan news magazine, echoed the sentiments of his colleague.

‘I have written about the Batwa before, but from Kampala. Now that I have had first-hand experience of interacting with them, my reporting is going to be better,’ he said.

Passionate journalists will always want to cover these stories. My hope is that human rights organizations continue supporting them to do so.

Photo: Geoffrey Mutegeki, a journalist with the New Vision (left) interviews Jesenta Mutume, the Vice Chairperson of the Bikuto Batwa settlement in Kanungu District, Uganda. Jasenta is a Mutwa. Credit: Billy Rwothungeyo/MRG.

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