World Federation of
Science Journalists

Ugandan science journalists cannot work because of illegal police occupation

May 28, 2013 posted in Sci.Journalism 1 comment >>
by Henry Lutaaya

Lominda Afedraru came back from a trip to the United Kingdom on Sunday 19th May 2013, with lots of story ideas and in very high spirits. Thanks to her hard work as well as financial support by the Biosciences for Farming in Africa (B4FA), she toured a number of science labs where she witnessed amazing technologies developed by scientists in the UK.

Excited by the innovations, Lominda, a member of the Uganda Science Journalists Association (USJA) and graduate from the World Federation’s SjCOOP program, wanted to get down to work the day after her return, to compose stories aimed at the Ugandan audiences on how the innovations she had witnessed could be used to improve the country’s agriculture.

Lominda Afedraru
Alas. This was not to be. On Monday 20, 2013 as Lominda approached her work station she was shocked to find heavy police deployed around the newspaper’s offices. With the offices cordoned off with ‘Crime Scene’ tapes, she got perplexed. She could not obtain her magic laptop that helps her put food to table and educate her two children.

Yesterday, Monday 27, 2013, the journalists’ community in Uganda and the management of the two media institutions marked one week since the two institutions were blocked.

For many journalists like Lominda, the closure of their media outlets has rendered them jobless, meaning that they are unsure of how they will make ends meet, if the situation persists for days or weeks to come.

This is especially true for those who are freelance or retained reporters at the two media institutions whose combined share of the audience is estimated at 50 percent of Uganda’s total newspaper readership.

But for Lominda, the ongoing Police blockade is a source of much anger and desperation because her laptop remains locked up in her desk at the newspaper’s offices. Lominda depends on her laptop for typing, researching and filing stories with The Daily Monitor as well as other international science magazines.

With teary eyes, Lominda told this reporter: “I am totally paralysed. I cannot do anything without that laptop. The police blockage has denied me my right to practice as a science journalist.”

“My editors have been calling me to submit stories, but without my laptop, I cannot focus on doing a story from an internet café,” She added: “I am so annoyed with the police!”

Many other journalists of the two media institutions have found themselves in similar situations as a result of the closures.

Steven Bwire, Henry Mulindwa, Mike Ssegawa, Moses Ndaye, all members of USJA as well as reporters and editors at Daily Monitor or KFM have spent a week amidst uncertainty as to what the future holds for them and their families, if their work stations remain closed.

The police raided the media outlets purportedly with the objective of searching for a controversial letter that was written by a high ranking military Gen. David Sejusa, and leaked to the two media houses, alleging a plot to kill three top military and government officials who are opposed to an alleged project to have President Museveni’s son Brig. Muhoozi Kainerugaba take over from his father as President.

After the alleged plot surfaced, Gen. Sejusa reportedly fled to London, UK from where he continued to give the two media outlets correspondences igniting widespread public interest in what has come to be known as the ‘Muhoozi project’.

Initially, the government beseeched the two media institutions to stop publication of Gen. Sejusa’s letter and subsequent correspondences. The editors refused to barge citing professional ethics and the law in protecting their sources.

The journalists cited Section 38 of the Press and Journalists Act 1995, which states that:
“A journalist shall not be compelled to disclose the source of his or her information except with the consent of the person who gave him or her the information or on an order of a court of law.”

What has enraged most journalists as well as other democracy activists is that the Police has maintained the blockade illegally. Whereas on Monday May 20, 2013, the Inspector General of Police (IGP) Gen. Kale Kayihura defended the search as legal following the grant of an order to search the media houses for the Letter, the same court withdrew the order a few days later, but the police have continued to occupy the premises of both media institutions.

The Police have so far turned a deaf ear to calls from leading human rights organisations including the government’s own Uganda Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch, Committee for Protection of Journalists (CPJ) to end the blockade.

Alex Asiimwe, the Managing Director of Monitor Publications told staff members today morning May 27, those negotiations were ongoing at ‘the highest level’. He however made no indication as to when the news organisation would be allowed to resume operations.

In a related development, the Board of the Uganda Science Journalists Association (USJA) has petitioned the IGP to reopen the media houses and to lawfully handle the matter.

In a letter signed on May 27, 2013, by the USJA Chairman, Mr. William Odinga Balikuddembe, and copied to several government institutions and foreign missions, the association said:

“As science journalists, we use our skills to provide useful information to help Ugandans improve their livelihoods and develop themselves using Science, Technology and Innovation. The closure of media houses has therefore denied the general public access
to vital information regarding farming, health, innovations among others.

“It is against this background that the Board of USJA, which sat on Friday May 24, 2013, passed a resolution urging your distinguished office to reflect on the damage caused and reopen the closed media houses.

“The USJA Board further urges the Police to use lawful means instead of force to resolve the crisis.”

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