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Ugandan President and the media

May 19, 2011, 2:46 PM

The person who described journalism as a business of making enemies is right.

This is especially so for investigative journalists, who probe behind the scene to get the real facts and publish them, with little or no regard for the consequences.

In other parts of the world, drug barons who are uncomfortable with their dogged digging always find a way to get rid of the investigative reporter.

But in Africa, it is public officials who are usually at loggerheads with journalists.

This is so, because most public office holders across the continent see their positions as an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the people.

And journalists, by the nature of their profession as society’s watchdog, are ever so alert to such misdeeds, and are ready to expose them wherever and whenever they happen.

Because such officials do not want to be exposed, they court journalists by inducing them with favours now and again. Alternatively, where that fails, they resort to intimidation.

Where senior public officials lose their jobs, because they do things that endanger the lives of people, that is a story no real journalist would sweep under the carpet.

And where such officials make phone calls threatening such journalists and abusing them, journalists have to stand firm, and rally behind their colleagues.

Our point of focus is the accusation by President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, who according to reports by the BBC, accuses the local and foreign media of being “enemies of Uganda’s recovery” and vowed to treat them as such.

Why are journalists usually regarded as enemies of the state?

In a letter published in the state-owned New Vision paper, which is of course run by journalists, President Museveni called the local and foreign media “the enemies of Uganda’s recovery”.

Reports said he named Al-Jazeera, the BBC, regional NTV and Uganda’s privately owned Daily Monitor as cheering on those behind the month-long “walk-to-work” campaign.

“The media houses both local and international such as Al-Jazeera, BBC, NTV, The Daily Monitor, etc, that cheer on these irresponsible people are enemies of Uganda’s recovery, and they will have to be treated as such,” he reportedly said.

Ugandan Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko also told the BBC’s Network Africa programme that laws would be amended to deal with any journalist who became an “enemy of the state.”

Our advice to President Museveni, and all other public officials who do not want to have a bad press, is that they should do the right thing all the time. But when they act in bad faith, they should expect to be vilified.

“Think of a world where everybody is afraid to speak out, then think of a world where no one is afraid to speak up.”

Mary Robinson