Journalists call for end to repression and exploitation

By Our Reporters

Journalists in Uganda on May 3, 2020 joined the rest of the world in celebrating this year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) under the theme ” Journalism without fear or favour”. Uganda Journalists Union (UJU) congratulated media practitioners on marking this day despite the forced lockdown inflicted on them due to Covid – 19 pandemic now ravaging the world..
Mr Stephen Ouma Bwire , UJU General Secretary said Ugandan journalists have continued to work under pathetic conditions with repression from, security agencies, assault, torture, confiscation and destruction of journalists’ equipment , being order of the day. He said critical journalists especially those upcountry are continuously being harassed and intimidated by local authorities and Resident District Commissioners (RDCs). “Some critical media practitioners are arrested on flimsy charges while others are detained sometimes incommunicado before their release without any charges being preferred,” he said.
Ugandan Journalists still face threats from draconian laws being preferred against them that include “ Offensive Communication”, " Computer misuse", “Sedition”, “ Libel”, “Defamation” “Incitement” and “Sectarianism”, among others. The safety for journalists situation is expected to worsen when the country prepares for the 2021 General Elections. But Mr Ouma said the continued attacks on the journalists especially those who cover Politics, corruption and human rights violations, are blatant efforts to systematically suppress critical reporting, stifle voices of dissent and undermine journalists’ right to report independently and objectively using a multiplicity of sources at their disposal.
“Curtailing critical reporting leads to gagging Journalists hence complete muzzling of media freedom in the country,” he said. Journalists in Uganda are continuing to be exploited by Media Owners or Proprietors who have taken advantage of absence of a Minimum Wage to violate journalists’ labour rights with impunity. Mr Ouma said Journalists who fall under the Freelance category are hired and fired verbally with no Employment Contracts, no Appointment Letters and as if that is not bad enough they are overworked like donkeys and paid peanuts.
“Most permanent staff journalists are duped and subjected into signing unrealistic Employment Contracts like was discovered during Covid-19 pandemic when journalists' salaries were reduced,” he said. Media houses in Uganda face Interference by government and advertising companies that has impacted adversely on editorial independence of media houses. Some media houses must compromise objectivity in news reporting in exchange for advertising revenue.

Uganda Police has failed to apprehend and prosecute culprits who murdered five journalists in the country. Kasese based Mupaghasya Community Television, journalist Mr Amon Thembo “Wa Mupaghasya” was shot dead on May 12, 2012 and up to now Police has never prosecuted the killers.
Masaka – based Top Radio and Television Correspondent Mr Paul Kiggundu , was on September 10, 2010 beaten to death by rowdy motorcycle taxi operators after he filmed them setting ablaze a house of their colleague. Prime Radio News Reporter and Presenter Mr Dickson Ssentongo was on September 13, 2010 clobbered to death by metal wielding assailants. The New Vision newspaper News reporter Mr Thomas Pere was on June 16, 2013 murdered and his body dumped on road side.
There are a number of cases filed by journalists in courts of law with some being settled out of court. However major cases of torture have never been resolved as the journalists who were tortured and escaped death by a whisker continue to be frustrated..
Former News Reporter at the Razer newspaper and Chinese Xinhua news agency stringer Mr Julius Odeke escaped death narrowly after a Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) soldier shot at him tearing through his stomach . He was hospitalized for over two years as he recovered from the injuries. His case against the Uganda Attorney General has since been frustrated with little hope of getting justice. In 2015 WBS Television journalist Mr Andrew Lwanga was assaulted by a Senior Police Officer while covering a group of young Ugandans who were protesting against unemployment in the country. Mr Lwanga suffered a broken spin with other multiple injuries. He has since been crippled and forced out of the job and his case remains unresolved in courts of law after being frustrated by authorities. In 2018 several journalists were beaten, tortured and detained during by - elections in Bugiri and Arua districts plus unrest in Kampala. However the widely publicised act of torture by the army was an August 20, 2018 incident on Reuters Stringer Mr James Akena. The journalist was clobbered like a snake and forced out of the job with severe multiple injuries inflicted on him. There are several other journalists who have been tortured and their equipment confiscated or destroyed by security agencies but fear coming out in the open to complain. Uganda Journalists Union President Ms Lucy Anyango Ekadu said government should compensate all journalists who have been tortured, detained and their equipment destroyed.
She said: “Uganda government should guarantee the safety of journalists and stop security agencies from directing repression on the media as we prepare for 2021 General elections.”. Ms Ekadu said Police should investigate all cases of journalists killed, apprehend and prosecute the culprits in courts of law since justice delayed is justice denied. Uganda National Commission for UNESCO Communications Officer Mr Daniel Kaweesa told the Workers Eye all security operatives especially the army and the police who commit crimes against journalists should individually be held liable and prosecuted in courts of law. " Security operatives like the army and police who commit crimes against journalists should individually be held and prosecuted in courts of law", he said■