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17th March, 2014
Press statement: For immediate release
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is extremely concerned with the superfluous and uncalled for politicization and criminalization of the media by ‘labeling’ journalists ‘pro-Mbabazi’ to mean that they are inclined and supporters of the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister, John Patrick Amama Mbabazi. This unjustified labeling of journalists has sent shock waves, caused panic and stress among media practitioners and many are acting under pressure from their employers and audiences to prove that they are not compromised.
Journalists are supposed to be impartial and objective in the course of their work. So, this labeling amounts to persecution and poses a threat to the lives and job security of the named journalists. It has been made difficult to report on the NRM political party matters without fear or favor or without being labeled pro or anti Mbabazi.
HRNJ-Uganda has talked to a number of journalists on the said list; most of them have vehemently denied being inclined to any political camp. Some are so surprised that their names could make such a list which has horrible political implications to their career. Some journalists believe that their names were copied and pasted from sign-in books in Parliament or Media Centre, disturbing however is how some editors who never go to the field had their names on the said list. This behavior from State operatives who do the labeling is intended to deny the public the right information pertaining to issues within the ruling NRM party.
You will recall that early this month, an alleged list of 150 journalists reportedly compiled by State operatives was said to have been presented to State House, accusing the journalists of being biased in their coverage in favor of Mr. Mbabazi. This has come at a critical time of heightened political tension within the ruling NRM where the Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi is accused of nurturing ambitions to contest in the 2016 presidential elections and undermining his boss the President.
HRNJ-Uganda believes that the ongoing debates within the NRM as to who should contest for presidency is a matter of public interest as well as national importance which journalists must cover accurately and offer all views an equal opportunity with a view of helping the citizens make informed decisions in their way of judgment. However this should not be construed to mean that when one side is offered space it amounts to being pro the views of that side.
Persecution of journalists because of their work has a huge chilling effect on the media industry; it is intended to stifle public debate on the affairs of the party that was entrusted with the responsibility of managing Uganda’s public affairs. This pattern of events is further contributing to the already worsening space for the media that is getting narrower and narrower everyday especially when it comes to reporting about governance issues.
HRNJ-Uganda would therefore recommend the following;
- We call upon the media managers/ proprietors and journalists to stand firm and resist the political temptations to compromise their quality of work and consequently the industry
- Call upon the State agencies and NRM party functionaries to desist from politicizing, criminalization and persecution of journalists because of their professional work
- The State House and the relevant authorities should come out and explain the said list and what it is intended for
- The media should be allowed to operate freely without this undue pressure which is detrimental to the notion of holding leaders accountable.
- The state is reminded that the media plays a fundamental role in championing good governance and development and therefore it must restrain from curtailing its freedoms at all times
- The State must uphold its obligations to protect promote and uphold fundamental human rights including those of journalists.
In solidarity, we stand to defend the media
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda