Last week, Uganda Journalists Association boss Kazibwe Bashir called for a boycott against police brutality meted on members of the Fourth Estate. This follows untold assault against reporters as they carry out their duties, and most recently as they covered Makerere university protests.
It is not the first time Journalists call for a boycott of this kind. Due to disunity among media professionals, the plans always fail as soon as they are announced. Shockingly even assaulted reporters of different media houses continue to publish stories about their tormentors albeit without apology.
Mr Kazibwe’s UJA therefore needs to have another game to his initiative for his campaign to bite, as if things go on as usual, no one would take future announcements from journalists, more seriously.
Under normal circumstances, I would not support a blackout on police activities since reporting on the institution of the police is not a favor to police but a service to the public. Police may even be less bothered about the boycott, after all there is little good to say about the institution with members who have clobbered and left some journalists condemned in wheel chairs, for the remaining part of their lives. That is the fate of journalist Andrew Lwanga a former video journalist with the defunct WBS, who was clobbered to disability by former Old Kampala district police commander (DPC) Joram Mwesigye in 2015.
Protests world over, are about sending a message to the oppressor. Journalists need to come out together to ensure their voices reach all concerned offices and officers.
As Ugandan Journalists, we owe the public a duty to inform them of what is going on in the country and world at large. That is what the practice of journalism is fundamentally about. The practice of Journalism is also lawful a trade in this country. It is also protected by the Constitution of Uganda in several articles and Acts of Parliament. Article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda 1995, guarantees protection of these individual rights—which include freedom of the press, media practitioners, civil society organizations (CSOs) and all political groupings. Thus, under national, regional and international laws, Uganda is obligated to respect the right to freedom of speech, expression and assembly of all persons.
The 1995 Constitution of Uganda has some of the best defenses for the freedom of opinion, expression and information guarantees including the above mentioned Article 29(1)a which provides that everyone shall have the right to “freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media”.
There is Article 41(1) that provides that “Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other agency of the State…” and Article 20(1) which states that the right to expression and access to information is “inherent and not granted by the State”.
Police and its sister security agencies should respect, protect and promote these rights as their duty, and breach of the same tantamouts to failure in their duty. Security must fulfill their constitutional obligation and know they are not doing any journalist a favor in doing so. But they must be very afraid to abuse these freedom as they should be held as sacro sancti.
actually, Justice Mulenga in his landmark ruling in Charles Onyango-Obbo & Andrew Mujuni Mwenda v Attorney General stated that “What Article 43(2a-c) is saying is that for any limitation on these rights, it must be justifiable to the State”.
Journalists who are deliberately harmed by law enforcement officers as if Journalism is a crime or an enemy of the public good, such as the cases we witnessed at Makerere and during Bobi Wine OTT protests, Walk to Work by Dr Kizza Besigye in 2011, etc are abuse that must be severely punished by the law and its champions such as judges. If they fail so, journalists should have the courage to refer such cases to regional and international courts.
I pray Mr Kazibwe and other leaders of Journalists championing their causes, push the law to the limits in order to stop this increasingly shrinking media space.
Whereas demonstrations are a good idea to show displeasure, the actual beef is in taking police or military organs to court, local, regional and international. Ugandan security outfits and their leaders should be called out to answer to the abuses against journalists such as we witnessed when James Akena, a Reuters photographer was covering
Courts should pronounce themselves on the matter when police and security officers deem Journalism a crime. Courts should pronounce themselves on the matter that if journalism is legitimate practice, it should be sacro sancti and therefore anyone who stands in the way of freedom of information, should be held as an enemy of the public good.
Journalists don’t serve their end in reporting on events or history in making. It is a duty bestowed upon them which makes our country and world a better place. For any security officer to think media people are working against public order or good, are mistaken, ignorant and poorly trained, and therefore need either to retrain or at best, leave the forces whose duty too is to protect public good.
Kazibwe, and his fellow leaders should therefore explore the option to leaving a mark of Me Again for a security officer to deliberately beat up or harm Journalists on duty. It should be anathema. Kazibwe, lead the media fraternity to court, if need be, the highest court in the land, to make the voice of Journalists heard. We are not at war with citizens. We are not at war with the state. We are Journalists. Messengers who serve all estates, with neutrality.