It is very rare to find political leaders who say nice things about journalists and their news organisations, especially if the leaders are mucking up things and the news organisations are criticising the leaders and exposing their wrongdoing.
So when President Museveni said during last week’s so-called anti-corruption week that “I sometimes read useless papers like the ‘Daily’ Monitor. By the way, Monitor is a bad paper,” I was not surprised at all.
Mr Museveni went on: “I rarely read papers, but once in a while when I read them and I see something, I follow it up. So there was a story I read and I tasked my monitoring unit to follow up, and indeed they uncovered a lot of corruption...”
The contradiction in the president’s comments was hard to miss. If something is useless, it goes without saying that it does not serve any purpose, and using it is a waste of time. So one wonders why the president, who is supposed to be busy running affairs of the State, wastes his precious time reading a useless newspaper. That is not an efficient way of managing time. The president’s outbursts and war against Daily Monitor have not started in 2019. Over the years, I have read quite a lot about his outbursts against the paper.
Many years ago, while speaking at an event in Lugogo, Mr Museveni’s wife Janet Kataha Museveni, blasted Daily Monitor saying the paper had never written one single good thing about her husband’s administration. The story, filed by journalist Peter Wamboga Mugirya, made the front page.
In 2006, the First Family again got involved in a fierce clash with Daily Monitor following an article about the president and his family.
Mr Museveni’s son-in-law, Odrek Rwabwogo, a former journalist, penned a long article hitting out at the paper’s management and attacked former Editor-in-Chief and founder Wafula Oguttu over what he called nepotism, the same accusation Daily Monitor had levelled against Mr Museveni. The previous year, Mr Museveni had threatened to shut down the paper over the John Garang helicopter crash broadcast on KfM, the paper’s sister radio station. And in October 2002, security forces raided Daily Monitor’s newsroom and occupied it for a week following publication of a story saying that rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army had shot down a UPDF helicopter in northern Uganda.
In 2013, security forces again raided Daily Monitor premises over the Muhoozi Keineruga project story and took KfM off the airwaves.
When, in 1999, the paper printed a photo that appeared to show a woman being shaved around her ‘unmentionables’ by soldiers suspected to be members of the UPDF, the paper’s editors were dragged to court, setting in motion a protracted legal battle.
Governments elsewhere have done similar things to have total control of the press. In Mexico, the government did not allow anyone to sell and distribute newsprint for 55 years. The government lifted its control over newsprint in 1990.
In 2016, Zambia held its general election when the main independent newspaper, The Mast (then called The Post), had been shut down for what the government called its failure/refusal to pay taxes. But the paper said it was simply muzzled for being critical.
The Mast, whose publisher and editor Fred M’membe has won several international awards for championing press freedom, continued to publish from an unknown location.
In Cambodia, the authorities also employed the tax excuse to rein in a critical newspaper. The Cambodia Daily was ordered to pay a tax bill totalling $6.3m, but the paper just could not raise the money and announced in September 2017 that it was shutting down its operations for good.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power for more than 30 years, just like Mr Museveni, had called the publishers of the Cambodia Daily “thieves.” Like the Cambodia Daily, Daily Monitor is paying the price for being outspokenly critical of the current leadership and for giving the public the opportunity to do the same. It is not and has never been a bad newspaper; it is just a thorn in the flesh of bad leaders.
The writer is a journalist and former Al Jazeera digital editor in charge of the Africa desk