KAMPALA. A free press is an essential part of a democracy. It is not a luxury. A free press holds the powerful and the wealthy to account. It asks questions. It investigates. It defends the weak. The press is not perfect.
But better an imperfect media than a passive one, which does as it is told by those who have power and money. That is the route to dictatorship.Today the freedom of the press in Uganda is under threat.Armed police surrounded yesterday the offices of the Monitor. Detectives searched the building.
They shut down KFM and Dembe, the two radio stations which are owned by the Monitor’s parent company, Monitor Publications, which operate out of the same building.Red Pepper, the boisterous tabloid, was given the same treatment.The government has grown increasingly angry about the media’s coverage of what has become known as the General David Sejusa affair.The Monitor broke the story and has reported it objectively and accurately.
This newspaper does not know if the claims by Gen Sejusa, commonly known as Tinyefuza about sinister plots over the succession to the President are true. However, we have a duty to report what the general, as a senior figure in the establishment, is saying. We also have a duty to report what others, enemies and friends, say about him.By raiding the Monitor and Red Pepper Government has elevated a story about feuding within Uganda’s government and military into an international incident.
They have lost the chance to put across their side of the story.In today’s world, of instant, 24 hour news, transmitted in a myriad of ways, it is impossible to silence criticism by attacking radios and newspapers. The government should remember that.
Following the Monday afternoon police raid at the Monitor Publication head offices in Namwongo, the Managing Editor, Mr Alex Asimwe, issued a statement condemning the unwarranted development. Below is the statement in full.
The management of Monitor Publications Ltd strongly condemns the closure by Uganda Police today of its newspaper, The Monitor, and its Radio Stations, KFM and Dembe FM. About 50 armed men in Police Uniform stormed the company's premises at Namuwongo at noon with a Search warrant, blocked all exits and insisted they wanted to conduct a search.
They claimed to be looking for a document associated with a story that has been widely covered by all media quoting a letter from General David Tinyefuza to the head of the internal intelligence services on an alleged assassination plot.
Instead of carrying out the search, the armed men disabled the printing press, computer servers and radio transmission equipment.
The intention was to prevent the Monitor from operating broadcasting and printing its newspapers.
"We are horrified by this act, which is a gross disregard of Ugandan Law and a violation of The Monitor's constitutional right, said Mr. Alex Asiimwe, The MPL Managing Director. "This matter is in court and management has contested the demand by the police for us to disclose the source of the story, and the matter is yet to be decided."
He added: "It is particularly perturbing that the police ordered our operations shut down under the pretext of carrying out a search. It is unacceptable that our business should be crippled on a dispute which should be settled in court."
By this afternoon Police were still at the Monitor's premises as management sought to vacate the court order granted to them by a magistrate.
We thank our listeners and customers for their support and assure them that we are making every effort to resume our newspaper and broadcast operations.