Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Govt got its media strategy totally wrong
Government has heightened its preparedness to clamp down on the independent media. President Museveni’s attack on Daily Monitor in his State of the Nation address last week was a clear signal that government was not about to respect press freedoms and freedom of thought in the country.

In fact, by the time Mr Museveni was venting his anger at the media, a group of middle aged state operatives were in communist China to acquire skills on how to muzzle the media.

The Uganda Newspaper Editors and Proprietors Association has rightly and promptly objected to the state machination’s to gag the media.

It’s a fact that journalism is no easy task at the best of times- especially when questions are raised about the workings of journalists and the capacity of the media especially those outside the realm of government- to provide accurate, reliable and timely information on the conduct of those who are in charge of running the government.

The role of the media in a young democracy like Uganda is very crucial in highlighting and exposing the wrongs/excesses of government officials and the widespread corruption in public service.

And while media firms and journalists’ groups like UNEPA should promote higher professional standards among journalists, it’s also the duty of the press as the 4th estate to oppose abuse of power by those who are in authority.

It’s now an accepted international legal norm that a free media is essential for creation of democratic societies. This is a universal and fundamental right.

During his address, Museveni displayed a copy of Daily Monitor, which he claimed carried a false story about the sale of Dairy Corporation to a Thai investor for a nominal fee of one dollar.

But apart from bashing the newspaper for publishing ‘falsehoods’ no government official- not even the President- has come out to put the facts right on what transpired in that transaction.

Just like the secretive oil extraction contracts being entered into by government, the citizens have an inherent right to know what their government is doing. Because whatever government officials do, they do it or should do it for the benefit of the people.

That’s why government has got its media strategy fundamentally wrong. In the wake of enormous changes now overtaking the media; the advent of digital reporting, text news messages and global phenomena of the dot-com journalism, it’s futile for government to send its media brains for training in a communist country still buried in medieval times where rulers are the law.

It’s on record that China and North Korea are still the worst abusers of media and other human freedoms in the world. But they too are now feeling the pinch for sticking to the primitive draconian communist policies which were designed to stifle civil liberties and protect tyrants.

But being the hosts of the Olympic games set for August, China is now left with no option but to open up to the outside world and embrace a free world with a free media. North Korea is following suit.

The Uganda government therefore should be sending its media strategists for training in vibrant democracies in Europe, India and America to learn from their experiences on how to counter ‘negative’ publicity, but not to the restrictive/ undemocratic regimes like China.

Government should provide open access to official information and should train its spokespersons and media strategists on the need to provide media with up-to-date and reliable information on all matters of governance.

A media strategy that encourages intellectual discourse, openness on part of government, dialogue and tolerance for divergent views will go a long way to grow our democracy. Gagging the media is not a good idea and it won’t work.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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