The Fourth Estate is crucial in society

Monday April 05 2021
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Daily Monitor’s Irene Abalo (centre) is helped by the publication’s acting managing editor (Dailies), Mr Tabu Butagira (right) and another collegue at International Diagnostic Centre where she got treatment after she was beaten by the military police yesterday. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

By Editor

Last week, the 2020 Press Freedom Index report produced by Human Rights Network for Journalists -Uganda (HRNJ-U) was launched.

Under the theme, “Resilience: Media in the face of Covid-19 and elections”, the report documents abuses and violations against journalists in 2020, with police emerging the top tormentors for the 12th time since the first report released 12 years ago.

In a Daily Monitor story of April 2 titled, “Stop mistreating journalists-Us Envoy”, Mr Robert Ssempala, the executive director of HRNJ-U, is quoted as saying the report shows that several journalists were victims of arbitrary arrests, detentions, assaults, and torture in the hands of security agencies and that there were also cases of violent attacks on journalists by mobs during political campaigns.

 The document lists a total of 174 cases of violations and abuses, an increase by nine cases from the previous year.

It is absurd that every year we have the same outcome despite efforts from some stakeholders to ensure press freedom is respected and observed.

What is more absurd though, is that now, even some members of the  public, who stand to benefit the most from good journalism, are among the tormentors as seen in cases where mobs attack journalists.

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 They also pointed to the urgent need to educate the public about the importance of the Fourth Estate.
 
Even with disruptions in the media industry such as citizen journalism and growing access to social media, the Fourth Estate is still key for any semblance of democracy to thrive.

 It is, therefore, a fallacy for the public to assume that they can do without the press or can execute their duties.

 The Fourth Estate needs to be supported by all stakeholders to do their job well. This includes the authorities such as police and the general population.

No citizen should not simply look on as journalists are tortured while in line of duty and assume all is well. Power is taken away from a population when it’s media is silenced.
 
Journalism is not a financially rewarding career, it is mainly driven by passion to tell the truth and be a voice of the voiceless, it is, to some extent, a sacrifice.  Why then should we look on as journalists are tortured and silenced?

The recently concluded general elections also showed how much press freedom has been abused, especially by the police.

Does the fact that police remains the main culprit of abuse and violations against journalists mean they have deliberately refused to respect journalists’ rights?

 If we keep ignoring these human rights abuses, one day we’ll wake up to no Fourth Estate and that will be the beginning of the end of democracy.

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