We are delighted to be back. This has been a difficult eleven days, for staff, for their families and for the thousands of people throughout Uganda, distributors, vendors and many others, who depend on the Daily and Weekend Monitor, KFM and Dembe FM for their livelihoods.
The reopening of Monitor Publications was negotiated with the government, and in the end resulted from a meeting of minds on the place of journalism in a fledgling democracy. That role is elaborately defined in our Editorial Policy Guidelines and Objectives, which set standards that are as rigorous and comprehensive as you will find in the world’s most developed media markets.
Some of our friends and readers in Uganda and abroad might see our return today as a victory over the government. And indeed some, might think the government backed down as some officials had spoken of closing the paper “indefinitely”.
That would be wrong. This is a victory for common sense. There is a long way to go, and much work to be done, but the manner of our closure, and re-opening, shows both the risks that remain, and the progress that is being made.
A free press is essential if a country hopes to grow peacefully.It is not a luxury. It holds the powerful and wealthy to account. It investigates. It defends the weak, but it also allows the government to mobilise the population for good causes.
It is contentious that our reporters were taken to court after we published a report about a letter written by General David Sejusa, also known as Tinyefuza, the Coordinator of Intelligence Services, where the general made a number of serious allegations about plots within government and the military. We did not endorse, or in any way support him; we simply reported what he, a senior military figure, had said.
We believe we were right to do so, but the government disagreed. But at least it took a step forward because it used the courts. Even when police took over our office, and shut us down, they did so after they had sought a search warrant. The detectives charged with locating the general’s letter were polite. They did not destroy equipment.
There are important and complex issues at stake. What is the role of the media in a developing country? A newspaper in a country in transition, emerging from a violent past, is different from a newspaper in London or New York. We want to be successful but we are not here to sell newspapers at any cost. We must campaign for better schools, healthcare, transport and much else. We must fight corruption, the curse of many developing countries. We must also always remember that this is a young and fragile democracy. Every day we must calculate the impact of what we write, in ways that our colleagues in other, richer parts of the world do not have to do. It is a heavy responsibility.
Much has been said over the past days about mounting threats to the media in Uganda. The statistics, such as attacks on journalists, do not lie yet are only one element of a complicated equation.
In the age of 24 hour, seven day-a-week information, of satellite television, the Internet and social media closing a newspaper does not prevent the transmission of news. It is rare for Uganda to make headlines around the world. Usually the country is only mentioned in stories about gorillas, child sacrifice and disease. The closure of the Monitor, our radio stations and Red Pepper, the boisterous tabloid, has been reported around the world. It is the credit of everyone, even our critics in government, that it has been settled by negotiation, not violence.
We remain committed to fair, balanced journalism. We will make mistakes, because we are human. But we will always try to learn from them and to be better next day.
Among key principles from our Editorial Policy & Guidelines that govern us, some are worth repeating here.
• Freedoms of speech and of the press are basic elements of any democracy or an emerging democracy.
• As a social institution, the press discharges crucial duties by carrying information, debates, analytical and critical comments on society.
• The press protects the freedom of speech and of the media and it should not yield to any pressure from anybody or any institution.
• It is the duty of the press to publish information that should be in the public domain, on what goes on in society and to uncover and disclose matters that ought to be subjected to public debate.
• It is the duty of the press to protect individuals against injustices or neglect committed by public authorities and institutions, private concerns and others.
1. Veracity and accuracy in reporting are an integral part of editorial policy and editors will only publish that which they believe to be true, fair and accurate.
2. All editorial content will be selected for its inherent news value and not to appease, augment or respond to political, commercial or any other interests.
3. We stand for racial, ethnic, religious and communal harmony and political/party tolerance as well as other forms of pluralism.
4. We support the principles of democracy as they are most widely understood, that is, good governance, transparency and accountability, regular, free and fair elections as well as social equity.
5. We support and promote public debate on matters of national importance with a view to bringing about behavioural and policy change for the common good.
We will avoid presenting acts of violence, armed robberies, banditry and terrorist activities in a manner that glorifies such anti-social conduct. We will not encourage or glorify social evils, warlike activities, ethnic, racial or religious hostilities.
We hope that as soon as possible, the government will also reopen The Red Pepper, carrying forward the commitment to diversity of expression that informed the reopening of The Monitor and its radio stations.