You are either a political activist or a journalist

Saturday November 21 2020
comment03pix
By Nicholas Kalungi

I watched with dismay the unfortunate incident where a journalist was pepper-sprayed by police officers during a fracas that ensued when presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, who is contesting on the ticket of the Opposition National Unity Platform, was being arrested in Luuka District, Eastern Uganda on Wednesday. 

On the face of it, one cannot fail to stop to disapprove the cruelty exhibited by police towards unarmed civilians. More so because these armed forces are paid by the unarmed tax payers including the journalist they roughed up.

But when you look at the professional side, I for one failed to understand why a journalist would be standing/sitting on top of a presidential candidate’s car!

The presidential candidate’s car is a preserve of the candidate, his campaign team and probably the security detail. But here was a young man on top of the car supposedly gathering news! Like Kenyan political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi usually says, “Things never go wrong. They start wrong.”

The extent at which journalists are exhibiting partisan traits leaves one wondering whether the public still gets balanced reporting from the media fraternity, especially during the political season.

I studied journalism and some of the fundamental codes of conduct include balance, truth and impartiality. But presidential campaigns have exposed an already-known fact that majority of journalists get entangled in the ideological dispensations of political parties and eventually become part of a certain group.

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I remember a journalist at one of the daily newspapers who was sent to President Museveni’s campaign trail and by the third week, he had started addressing President Museveni as ‘Mzee’ and the first lady as ‘Maama’ just because of familiarization!

Another journalist got so close to an opposition candidate that he started receiving lunch, supper and upkeep from the candidate.

There are a few issues that lead to this dilemma. One, some journalists are purely political and they lobby to be assigned to a campaign trail of their preferred candidate.

Two, some media houses are so poor that they cannot facilitate their journalists to go to the campaign trail. So, the camp of a given presidential candidate offers to facilitate them, which automatically compromises their reporting.

So, if you join the campaign trail under such circumstances, don’t start crying when you find yourself at the wrong end of the police actions, however wrong they would be. The said journalist was perhaps pepper-sprayed because he became part of Mr Kyagulanyi’s campaign team.

Elections are ‘a matter of life and death’ in this part of the world and the media cannot be forgiven if they chose to be partisan! This sad truth is as simple as that. We can either be journalists or politicians, but we can’t be both.

It is understandable that media houses are constrained by resources but at least they can curb this trend by rotating reporters on campaign trails. If reporter A spends a week on President Museveni’s trail, they should be shifted to Hon Amuriat’s trail the next week and to John Katumba’s campaigns the following week. This will take them out of the comfort zone that results in indoctrination.

Nicholas Kalungi is a digital and communications consultant based in Uganda.  

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