Ugandan journalists protest over lack of press freedom

This article was written for the Africa Desk at May 16, 2011 —
Here is the article on their page

KAMPALA – Now that Uganda is faced with political unrest, press freedom is increasingly under attack. In their fight against impunity and more press freedom, Ugandan journalists have now slapped a boycott against government information.

Foto: Marlies Pilon

For more than 15 years Benedicto has been selling newspapers at his small stand in Ntinda, a suburb of Kampala. “There are a lot of independent newspapers in this country and we are proud to have independent media”, tells the father of two with a smile on his face. “That is good, because sometimes the state- media ‘forget’ to write about important issues. If you know what I mean?” he adds with a wink of the eye.

Foto: Marlies Pilon

“As soon as demonstrations and violence hit this country, more and more people are interested in buying independent newspapers like The Daily Monitor and The East-African. For example, if times are quiet, I sell around 20 Daily Monitor’s. Now, with the demonstrations and violence people are eager to read and see what’s happening. Last week I sold about 60 Daily Monitor’s a day!”

While Benedicto’s business in independent newspapers flourishes during times of unrest, journalists have to pay the price. Last Thursday, over 14 journalists were physically attacked while covering the return of the main opposition leader Dr. Kizza Besigye.

Mulindwa Mukasa a reporter with Wavah Broadcasting Service (WBS) TV is one of the victims who sustained injuries from such an attack on his left arm. He testified that he was assaulted before his camera was forcefully confiscated, when he was filming the anti-riot and the military police dispersing Dr. Besigye’s supporters with live ammunition and teargas.

In reaction to the disproportionate violence used against them, journalists have unanimously resolved to boycott all press conferences at government manned Uganda Media Center, activities of the police and the Uganda People’s Defence Force.

“Although the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of the press, perpetrators of violence against people working in the media have not been put to justice. So we decided it’s time for advocacy and more public actions to generate change”, says Geoffrey Ssebaggala, programme coordinator for the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda.

Geoffrey knows from his own experience, what repression feels like. When the government shut down his media organization several years ago, he lost his job. “I have survived kidnaps and even had to go into exile. But I wanted to come back to Uganda because I feel it is my personal mission to create more freedom for journalists and fight the culture of impunity.”

“The problem in Uganda is that few people appreciate the roll of a free press in society”, tells Geoffrey. “If people vote for someone merely because they receive money for it, they will not question human rights or justice issues.  Off course, certain sectors of the public appreciate the role media freedom, but most people in Uganda are unaware of the importance of an independent media”.

“One more thing”, he adds with a serious voice. “It is really important that governments like the Netherlands and the US stop funding the Ugandan government and police. These institutions only repress us. Funding roads and environmental issues is ok, but please, don’t fund the government and police, they don’t operate in the interest of their people.”

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