Beat up journalists often and they may let you be

Sunday November 3 2019

Bernard Tabaire

Bernard Tabaire 

By Bernard Tabaire

Yesterday, Saturday, November 2, was International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.
According to the UN, its General Assembly proclaimed the date to urge member states to “implement definite measures countering the present culture of impunity” against journalists.

“The date was chosen in commemoration of the assassination of two French journalists in Mali on November 2, 2013… This landmark resolution condemns all attacks and violence against journalists and media workers. It also urges member states to do their utmost to prevent violence against journalists and media workers, to ensure accountability, bring to justice perpetrators of crimes against journalists and media workers, and ensure that victims have access to appropriate remedies. It further calls upon states to promote a safe and enabling environment for journalists to perform their work independently and without undue interference.”

Obviously, a number of UN member states such as Uganda, as is wont to happen, endorsed the resolution. And moved on. The casualness with which countries treat some of these global commitments is intriguing.
The on-going protests by Makerere University students against increase in tuition has provided only the latest opportunity for the rights of Ugandan journalists’ to be violated. State security agencies have had a go at journalists covering the protests.
Clobbered? Tick.

Footage forcibly deleted? Tick
Equipment confiscated and/or damaged? Tick.
Denial of access to news sites? Tick.
And on and on. It happens all the time. The mantra seems to go something like this: We the security services of Uganda shall crush dissent and anyone exposing that operation shall be crushed as well.
Ugandans may not think much of the news media because of some of the mistakes journalists make, but they should remember that they will, and often do, need media when the State repressive machine descends upon them.

It is, therefore, a no-brainer that anyone with a modicum of public consciousness and some appreciation of Uganda’s political history over the past 40 years should condemn the State’s excesses against dissenting Ugandans and the journalists reporting their story.

Otherwise, it may not take long for us to get to the depths of where some countries are in trashing journalists to protect their greed and criminality. Bad people will do bad things, but when that happens, they should be held accountable. But rarely do you see anyone punished for abusing a journalist who happened to be doing journalistic work.
This stuff can be corrosive. According to UNESCO, “impunity damages whole societies by covering up serious human rights abuses, corruption, and crime”.
You bet.


We are not killing journalists yet, but what does it take? The necessary conditions exist: the public denunciations starting from on-high, and the assaults as we see them in the present Makerere protests. Impunity, we are reminded by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “emboldens the killers and fear chills reporting”.

CPJ runs a Global Impunity Index. It reports: “During the 10-year index period ending August 31, 318 journalists were murdered for their work worldwide and in 86 per cent of those cases no perpetrators have been successfully prosecuted.”

Some of the drivers of impunity, according to CPJ, are “unchecked corruption, ineffective institutions, and lack of political will to pursue robust investigations”.
It is not only in places like Somalia where this horrible stuff happens, but in democracies as well.
The International Press Institute reports: “Outside Europe, democracies are failing to eradicate impunity.

Two years after Gauri Lankesh was short dead outside her house in Bangalore, Indian police have yet to bring the masterminds behind the murder before justice. Similarly, in Ghana, there remains impunity for the January 2019 murder of Ahmed Hussein-Suale. Mexico, Latin America’s second most populous democracy, remains a world leader in impunity; recent murders of high-profile journalists such as Javier Valdez Cárdenas and Miroslava Breach Velducea remain unsolved.”
It would be a shame for Uganda to join that list.

Bernard Tabaire is a media trainer and commentator on public affairs based in Kampala.