Tuesday March 18 2014

To the media: Separate news from propaganda and smear campaign

By Nicholas Sengoba

It has taken on the character of the fight between elephants. The grass is suffering. That is NRM’s effort to come to terms with the alleged ‘cliques and individuals’ who are trying to take over the leadership of the party. The task to isolate and neutralise the party’s Secretary General, Mr Amama Mbabazi, appears to be greater than what was originally perceived.

When Northern Youth MP Evelyn Anite theatrically came up with a ‘motion’ to have President Museveni stand as NRM’s sole candidate in 2016, it was thought that that would remove the wind beneath the wings of other supposed contenders. It has not happened, at least going by the endless NRM Causus meetings at Kyankwanzi and State House Entebbe.

Mbabazi, like the proverbial phoenix, seems to rise up from the ashes and this prompts more meetings and machinations. Initial efforts to isolate Mbabazi saw the circulation on social media and subsequent publishing in some sections of the media, of names and in some cases the wealth of civil servants, Resident District Commissioners, MPs, security agents and NRM mobilisers who are allegedly pro-Mbabazi.

This, of course, would imply that there is a purge in the offing. The smarter people would then out-do each other (like happened in Kyankwanzi) in an attempt to distance themselves from Mbabazi while swearing their allegiance to President Museveni.

But now the focus is on the media. Because of its ability to provide visibility and constantly maintain an agenda, there is a campaign to use the media to champion political agendas of different players and block the coverage perceived enemies receive.

A list of about 100 journalists appeared first on social media then it made its way into the Red Pepper. It is not the first time we have heard of journalists taking money to influence reporting. It may happen, for bad eggs are not restricted to the media industry. But in this business when people do not get the coverage that is in their favour, their first conclusion is that ‘someone’ has been paid to spread misinformation about them.

Most times, for legal reasons and the lack of substantial evidence, innuendo forms the major part of these accusations. You hear things like a “tall journalist with a brown wife who drives a Toyota was paid…”

This time round, in a desperate and bold attempt, journalists have been named, the media houses they work for, the amount involved and the scope of the work they are supposed to carry out. This is intended to intimidate journalists, create fear, which will lead to manipulation and possible blackmail of those who do not comply.

Since the major asset of a journalist is integrity, there will be a lot of precaution taken before one embarks on publicising anything that is perceived to be ‘pro-Mbabazi’. Some may even be coerced into giving NRM’s Secretary General negative publicity in order not to appear on the list of those he has purportedly bribed.

Of course, there will be provision of space and time for stories citing ‘intelligence reports’ that are anti-Mbabazi, many of which may not be substantiated. It has now emerged that most of what has been published about what transpired in the Caucus meetings fits this description. Bottom line: Journalists should exercise great care in running single-sourced stories from caucus meetings they did not attend.

In the Sunday Monitor headline story of March 16, former vice president Gilbert Bukenya is unashamedly full of glee because Mbabazi is now a victim of ‘misused intelligence structures!’ This story is proof that a propaganda campaign is going on for which the media should be on the lookout. Times like these call for serious judgement because they usually deposit regrettable records in history.
Mr Sengoba is a commentator on political and social issues. nicholassengoba@yahoo.com