When wananchi think journalism is a crime

Odoobo C. Bichachi

What you need to know:

...journalists must keep doing their work without fear or favour while taking their personal safety seriously

You must have heard the phrase “Journalism is not a crime”. It is a popular world-wide rallying call for the protection of journalists and media in general.

Journalists often face violence and intimidation for exercising their fundamental right to freedom of expression that is protected by the bill of rights. Threats often include: “murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, offline and online harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture, etc.

In Uganda, Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) has done an impeccable job documenting these abuses year in, year out. According to the HRNJ Press Freedom Index Report of 2021, at least 131 cases of abuse or violations of rights of journalists were recorded in the country.

The abusers of journalists in 2021 fell into nine categories, namely: unknown, Members of Parliament (MPs), the community, Special Forces Command (SFC), Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs), Resident District Commissioners (RDCs), Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) and the Uganda Police Force (UPF).

It is easy to guess who the leading abuser of journalists and media was in 2021. The Police! And for the thirteenth straight year with 82 cases! Next in descending order was UPDF (25 cases), SFC (6 cases), the community (6 cases), unknown persons (4 cases), RDCs (3 cases), MPs (2 cases), UCC (2 cases) and lastly CAOs (1 case).

It is also easy to tell what the police, army and politicians (in whatever category they fall in above) do to journalists. Journalists are beaten, arrested and threatened by the powers that be using the firearms they carry or the lofty offices they occupy.

What about the community? How do they abuse the rights of journalists and media? Well, the community is a big grouping so members of the public, acting as a mob or individuals, can threaten or abuse journalists.

This week, I got into my mailbox two such threats from the “community” or rather two individuals whose target was Daily Monitor and its journalists for stories they did not like.

First was one Nswaza Muganda Kkubbo who was unhappy with the newspaper’s editorial titled, “Deal firmly with rogue pastors” (January 17). He wrote, inter alia: “I am aware Daily Monitor  is at war with and insults every religion and faith except Agha Khan’s religion, but this particular editorial blew my mind beyond comprehension…  Freedom of worship is a fundamental human right that supersedes legislation and any law. To my surprise, the Monitor, which is always calling the Museveni regime a dictatorship that does not respect the rule of law, is now calling for the state to adopt unconstitutional ways when it comes to pastors…”

In a rejoinder email, he wrote: “I have remembered, among the liberal agendas promoted by Daily Monitor in Uganda is a hoax called climate change; always talking about wetland encroachment, prompting the slashing of peasants’ rice farms in eastern Uganda. The day I will show up at Namuwongo with my panga (machete), I will make sure I come back with one potato head in my hand and that will mark the end of my mission on earth. I will slash off the first potato head I meet at the gate or reception of Monitor and this is not a bluff because I’m not Allan Ssewanyana or Ssegirinya who joke & they are arrested, I’m a real kijambiya.”

Then came another email from one Robinah Kadondi Nambadhi. She wrote: “Dear Monitor lumpens, please stop writing about wetlands. We have had enough of your propaganda. The picture story, “How wetland encroachers protect their houses from-floods”, (December 29, 2022) is fake news!

How dare you call someone’s home a “wetland”! Wananchi have had enough Daily Monitor-European propaganda and are soon taking matters into their own hands. Hence an order is issued to Monitor lumpens to cease and desist from blackmail by using words like ‘wetland encroachment’, etc. What if Namuwongo was a wetland? Can you show an example by turning your office into a wetland and buying new land for your offices on the hill? We might be forced to take matters into our own hands against Daily Monitor lumpens impersonating journalists.”

Same person, different emails? Anyhow, journalists must keep doing their work without fear or favour while taking their personal safety seriously.

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