Brutality by security personnel against journalists in the line of duty has dominated discussions on press freedom in Uganda during the commemoration of World Press Freedom Day.
Established by the United Nations (UN) n 1993, the World Press Freedom Day serves as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom. It is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics.
The national celebrations were held at the ICT Hub of the Information and Technology Ministry in Nakawa under the theme, “Information as a Public Good”. Speakers from the government, media and the international community addressed the growing concern of security brutality against Journalists.
The UN Resident Co-coordinator, Rosa Malango stressed the need for the government to support free and independent journalism in the country. She said independent journalism is an ally to democracy and development and hence asked the government to respect it.
She sent sympathies to Journalists who have faced the wrath of security like Ghetto TV’s Ashraf Kasirye who was shot during the campaign trail of the National Unity Platform-NUP presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi.
She sought government intervention in laying a conducive environment for the practice of Journalism, adding that no Journalist should die in the line of duty.
The Ag. Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission-UHRC Dr. Katebalirwe Amooti Wa Irumba, said that the status of press freedom in the country has generally improved but noted that during the 2021 electoral period and the COVID 19 lockdown, press freedom was challenged.
Dr. Katebalirwe says the tension that preceded and followed the 2021 general elections affected press freedom as Journalists clashed with security during campaigns. He called for all stakeholders including the government to ensure that there is a conducive environment for media practice.
Dr. Katebalirwe, who referred to Journalists as partners in development, said a lot still needs to be done in the pursuit of media freedoms in Uganda. He said the commission has received a few reports of media violations that they are investigating.
Vincent Bagiire Waiswa, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT, who represented the Minister of ICT told Journalists that the government values and respects their job, which explains why they have established several platforms to engage and establish a cordial working relationship.
The President of the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA), Mathias Rukundo expressed dismay that all efforts to protect the press from security brutality have ended in futility. He said despite continuous engagements between the media and security officials, the latter have continued to disrespect Journalists and attack them in line of duty.
Apart from security brutality, the other issue that shaped the debate was fake news. Rosa Malango said in the advent of citizen journalism, Journalists need to avoid misinformation and hate speech. Bagiire also noted that with the advancement of technology, fake news has sprawled with some writers making up stories in their bedroom and propagating them as facts.
He called upon Journalists to exercise professionalism and always stick to facts and accurate news.