Journalists don’t Deserve to be Beaten or Equipment Destroyed!

By Ofwono Opondo

The recent events arising from the Arua municipality by-elections where uniformed army and police personnel descended on journalists while lawful professional duty with kicks, blows, canes, inflicting multiple physical injuries, and destroying equipment, in full public glare, is shameful, demonstrates impunity, must be roundly condemned, and never repeated. Yet, appearing undone in Arua, UPDF soldiers, hitherto known for professional discipline especially towards civilians, again this week, descended on journalists covering protests on Kampala streets, and clobbered a well-known and distinguished Reuters’ photo-journalist, James Akena, leaving him for the dead in hospital.
While the UPDF leadership has undertaken to conduct swift inquiry, apprehend and punish the errant soldiers, the events has tainted its image, and will take more than the words from Brig. Richard Kalemire, to repair the damage done. Yes, many of Uganda’s journalists today may not be professional, are partisan and purveyors of deliberate and calculated lies and falsehoods, but don’t deserve to be beaten while on duty or have equipment destroyed as we witnessed.
Rather, government must proactively engage the journalists and media, on the broader national strategic goals, and folly that may lie ahead, if they persist in deliberate unprofessional conduct in alliance with foreign or domestic negative forces to spread false narratives against their own country.
Looking across media houses, and platforms in Uganda, one cannot fail to notice that many of the leading personalities, passing for editors, program managers and producers, talk-show hosts, and journalists comprise failed and active partisan politicians. This group has either returned or joined the media as a frustrated gang, whose main intention is furthering what they couldn’t achieve through previous elections. Consequently, they are sowing so much toxin, undermining, in fact, have become a threat, to the noble role of the media as an impartial, objective, vibrant and effective watchdog.
Many journalists even of dubious qualifications feel no one should question the credibility of the information they pass on to the public. They are the only ones who know and hold the truth, and their monopoly has gone from informing the public to insulting those who disagree with them or their ways.
Following the sad events in Arua, many of them, have without restraint, taken their protest to social media, as  vocal, but cowardly keyboard warriors fuelling the rumour mill with intent to cause regime change through violence mongering. They are purveying photo shopped pictures of disfigured MPs and unsubstantiated information and fake news to stir public anger against President Museveni and NRM in what they describe as ‘people power’.
There is glaring pattern of slanted, selective, superficial, and non-objective way in which facts to news stories are gathered and presented for public consumption on virtually across all the main stream media platforms of television, radio and newspapers. This is often reinforcement on their respective social media platforms, and the endless banter on talk-shows where topics and panelists are invited in such skewed manner leaving a lot to be desired.
Quite a number of these people are exploiting their current positions, with the tacit approval of media owners, sometimes taking advantage of the weak gate-keeping, to drive their own agenda and narratives. In the era of social media, it has become an unfortunate acceptable norm for editors, journalists, news anchors, cameramen and field reporters to have their own unregulated social media accounts such as facebook, twitter, Instagram, viber and blogs where they spread their personal biases which in turn sip into coverage of stories in the media house for which they work. Having talked to a number of media owners and editors, there appears to be no effective institutional social media policy governing how their staff particularly journalists should interact with news, news sources, and the wider public.
This has left too thin a line between personal biases of a journalist, and official and acceptable editorial policy on content and corporate governance. For this reason, it is now common, to find a candidate who failed the previous election on the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) or Democratic Party (DP) becoming a television or radio program producer or talk-show host. He or she then determines and frames what subject is discussed by whom on their platforms. As a regular panelist on many platforms, I get amazed by the utter lack of sense of responsibility or shame that media owners and managers allow five opposition activists to be on the same panel, moderated by their own against one from NRM or government, and think it is balanced.
Photo-shopping, use of photographs from previous incidents, and manipulation of scenes have become trends in news cycle story-telling where mainstream media picks and circulate information from unverified accounts, passing them to their unsuspecting regular audiences. The first guilty party on this in my view is the media owners and editors who have allowed their platforms to be captured by these failed, frustrated and partisan politicians eying the next election circle. By omission or commission, these extortionists passing as journalists, have been left to live off their microphones in the studios.