UPPA Condemns Ban on Media
I will start with a brief history on the importance of journalism and journalists.
In 1891, Oscar Wilde wrote, in an essay The Soul of Man under Socialism, something about the press that sounds so true about Uganda 126 years later.
In the old days, men had the rack. Now they have the Press….somebody, was it Edmund Burke? called journalism the fourth estate. That was true at the time no doubt. But at the present moment it is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by journalism.”
Journalism has long been regarded as an important force in government, so vital to the functioning of a democracy that it has been portrayed as an integral component of democracy itself.
In 1787, during the opening of press reporting of the House of Commons of the Great Britain, British Statesman Edmund Burke said there were there arms of Government but as he spoke, he looked up at the press gallery and said, yonder, there sits the fourth estate, more important far than them all.”
Thomas Carlyle in his book the French Revolution, talks about the press thus, “A fourth Estate, of Able Editors springs up, increases and multiplies: irrepressible, incalculable.” Stanford University website on journalism in digital age opines that Carlyle had seen the press as instrumental to the birth and growth of democracy, spreading facts and opinions and sparking revolution against tyranny.
Why am I writing all this?
This evening as I sat in the Press Gallery at Parliament watching Members of Parliament throw sits and punches at each other over a suspicion that one of them had smuggled in a gun to cow them when the much anticipated debate on the removal of term limits starts, a colleague from NTV and whispered to me that they had been switched off when the fighting became intense. When I checked twitter, NBS TV too was saying they had been put off air.
When I got home, my WhatsApp group on press freedom was buzzing with updates about how four journalists, Robwert Kalibongo of Radio Unity, Martin Ongom a freelancer, Isaac Otwii, a freelance attached to Daily Monitor and Dennis Engena a freelance attached to NBS TV had been brutally picked from their newsrooms by security operatives and taken to police.
Security operatives whose only claim to fame is that they wield the instruments of torture and have total disregard for basic human rights are a threat not only to the helpless journalists whose only crime is writing annoying things but are also a threat to the very existence of the state.
They are poster children of lawlessness and agents of a dictatorship.
As Ugandans live in uncertainty about how the debate on whether or not to remove Presidential age limits will go, it is only the media that can fairly and objectively inform them.
As the opposition faces the tyranny of numbers in Parliament. As NRM Party Members fight to justify the jettisoning of article 102B from the constitution, it is the press that the public banks on to tell the inside story.
Nothing under the sun, justifies switching off independent television stations when the peoples representatives are jostling over what they believe to be true to them, the dishonorable manner in which they do it notwithstanding.
Nothing justifies picking journalists from their newsroom just because they are doing their job.
An intimidated press, leads to an intimidated population. A government that gags the media is one that is trying to hide the truth from its own people. Now that is not how a democracy works.
I condemn in the strongest terms any attempt to gag the press, not only during this so called controversial debate on presidential age limits but always.
If anyone in government is not satisfied with how the pressmen and women are doing their job, please rush to court and handle the issues like a democracy. Resorting to intimidation and draconian trickery is simply a sign of impunity and power getting to people’s heads.
As Parliament reconvenes to hear motions for request of different constitutional amendment bills to be brought to Parliament, I expect the people’s rights to know to be respected by those who the people entrusted with power. I expect a free professional media to flourish. The arrested journalists should be released.
As Charles Dudley said in his book My Summer in a Garden, Public opinion is stronger than the legislature and nearly as strong as the Ten Commandments.
Harassing the media will most definitely shape a negative opinion against those trying to suppress the people’s access to information.
President Uganda Parliamentary Press Association