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A year of unrest and redesign at Monitor

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Police officers block the Monitor

Police officers block the Monitor entrance during the siege in May. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye 

By Abdulaziizi K. Tumusiime

Posted  Tuesday, December 31  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

2013 saw the change of Saturday Monitor, Sunday Monitor and the Daily Monitor in terms of layout and content.

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Kampala- January is often a dull month, news wise. Business in most of the paper’s core news sources like government agencies is not full-on. It takes them time to settle in from the festive season’s celebratory mood.

However, this year was a bit different, particularly in regard to Parliament. Following the sudden death of Butaleja Woman MP Cerinah Nebanda on December 14, 2012, January was flooded with the news of the passing on of one of the youngest MPs.

This ranged from the differences between the Legislature and Executive in the handling of the post-mortem of the deceased, to a dispute over recalling of Parliament to discuss the arrest of some MPs for comments they made about her death. So, the paper was not affected by the usually “news dry” January.

The following months, the paper was flooded with coverage of the death of public figures. The newspaper’s page three is gazetted to carry human interest stories, but it was shifting into an obituary page. Hardly two months went by without the death of a prominent personality.

The death and life of such renowned countrymen like entrepreneur James Mulwana, President Museveni’s father Amos Kaguta, Eriya Kategaya, Justice of the Court of Appeal, Constance Byamugisha, the most recent being former FDC chairman Sam Njuba and on the international scene, Nelson Mandela, were fodder for our page three.

From February to March, the paper was used as a platform by President Museveni and former FDC president Kizza Besigye to settle ideological scores. Both wrote letters challenging each other’s approach towards Uganda’s governance, which were published in the newspaper. The substance of their arguments was regularly the subject of commentary by a number of our columnists.

In May, the paper was once again the litmus test of observance of independence of the media in the country. Early that month, it published claims that were made by renegade four-star general David Sejusa in a letter he sent to ISO director general Ronald Balya. Reporters of Daily Monitor who authored the story were summoned to CIID headquarters in Kibuli and asked to reveal the source of the letter and hand it over.

This was in vain. Police reacted by obtaining a court order for the newspaper to hand over the letter. Days later, police surrounded the paper’s premises in Namuwongo and brought its operations and those of its two sister stations – KFM and Dembe FM, to a halt. Reason? They wanted to search for the said letter.
This move drew condemnation locally and internationally. In the subsequent days, only a handful of employees were allowed entrance into the premises, but only to witness the search of the letter.

The future was uncertain for many employees and losses incurred increased by the day. Unsuccessful demonstrations by the paper’s sympathisers and enthusiasts of media freedom were held to agitate for the reopening of the newspaper. Ten days later, the paper was reopened. According to Daily Monitor’s finance office, losses made were to the tune of Shs1.3 billion.

After resuming business, there were remarks peddled in the mainstream and social media that the paper caved in to government demands as a prerequisite for reopening. This was refuted by the company’s management.

MPL staff speak out about 2013

Clive Kyazze, sports writer: “We gave more coverage to other sports like chess, volleyball and basketball which has not been the case in the previous years. This came to life because of the paper’s decision to stop giving coverage to the local football league. The policy started in late 2012 and was carried on to 2013. The logic was to avoid the paper being sucked into the conflict between the Fufa Super League and the Uganda Super League. Football stories we carried were about the national team or the international leagues.”

Lydia Namono, business Sub-editor: “The paper has tried to maintain its billing as the truth every day. The stories that have been run are factual. I am privileged to know that no story can be run by the papers simply because there is a deadline to beat, for Monitor it is about the facts. This has not been compromised in 2013. We have broken a number of big stories which have influenced the policy makers to act. Monitor reporters have won various awards which in my opinion, tells a lot about the quality of our product.”

Haruna K. Kiyemba, special projects executive: “There was a slowdown in terms of revenue. We were affected by the donors’ decision to cut aid to the country. The government reacted by cutting costs and in turn reduced the amount spent on adverts, yet they are the major source of revenue. On the other hand, the year has been one of innovation as we introduced new products on the market. We had the challenge of the siege but from a positive perspective, it helped to market the Monitor brand.”

Timothy Ntale, acting legal and administration manager: “This year, our journalists have been more cautious in their reporting. It is our practice to organise regular specialised legal trainings for our journalists and we had one early this year. The said trainings are meant to provide them with pointers on how to avoid legal pitfalls, which tend to expose the company. This, I believe, is the main reason we had few suits brought against us this year. As a matter of fact, even those few suits stemmed from stories published last year.”

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