Some really unfortunate tendency has settled within the Uganda security force who nowadays are frequently attacking and beating up journalists. It is deplorable that since Friday last week, at least seven journalists have been roughed up and arrested by security agencies.
One does not have to repeat the legal grounds upon which journalism is universally recognised for the very important role it plays in facilitating public communication while upholding the people’s right to know.
One does not even have to invoke the many international instruments governing democratic practice and human rights – which also underline the pivotal position of media freedoms in the context of the wider inalienable human right to freedom of expression, to make the point.
It should be simple good manners for the police to understand that you do not undress a woman in public as they did when violently arresting NBS television’s Remmy Bahati on Tuesday. That was vulgar.
Journalists can and will make mistakes. But to suggest that broadcasting live from Kasangati is inciting the public and, as such, warranties a heavy-handed police shutdown is to stretch an already very tenuous point. It in no way begins to justify the ongoing viciousness against journalists!
And what makes it more incredible is that a senior officer has been quoted saying that journalists could start ‘disappearing’ if they do not stop real-time coverage of the continued house arrest of FDC presidential candidate, Dr Kizza Besigye. Many people will agree that this was a most irresponsible thing to say.
It is embarrassing that Uganda’s security forces have fallen to such a low, turning into the very fearsome thing which haunted Ugandans only a few decades ago. This rise in the use of brute force against unarmed civilians is disgraceful.
Optimists had thought that with more of the police officer corps being drawn from individuals who have attained a higher level of education, the country would have a progressive force. We ask: where did the hopes for an enlightened leadership go?
While the free media is a soft target again, it has to continue serving the public interest even as the space within which it is operating is fast constricting. The political and security leadership, meanwhile, has to put a stop to these attacks which cannot be said to be a part of acceptable security standards.