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Uganda's Museveni issues warning to news media

President Yoweri Museveni (AFP)

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda lashed out at private broadcasters last week, accusing them of unethical reporting. The comments come in the midst of two important, ongoing developments: mounting public criticism of Museveni's policies and the government's criminal prosecutions of six journalists for their coverage.

"You rarely inform. You rarely educate. You entertain, yes. But you mostly lie and incite. I have so much evidence to prove all this," Museveni declared Friday while speaking at a dinner of Uganda's National Association of Broadcasters, according to the state-owned daily New Vision. The Office of the President's Media Centre quoted Museveni as saying that authorities would take "very serious" steps against media outlets seen as inciting public discontent with the government. "When you try to imitate the Western media," he was quoted as saying, "you will run into problems."

Museveni, a former guerilla commander in power since 1986, is expected to seek re-election in 2011.

Rachel Mugarura Mutana, who runs the independent Uganda Radio Network, has heard this all before. "He's said it more than once," she said. Fourteen months ago, in fact, the president singled out Monitor, Uganda's leading private daily, during his annual address to parliament. Waving a copy of an article critical of the government's dealings with an international investor, Museveni accused the paper of undermining national interests and said it had "no right to damage our future."

In some respects, radio journalists would seem an unlikely target for the president's most recent salvo. Local journalist Charles Bichachi told CPJ that some irresponsible statements could be heard on live radio debate programs, but he said the president's criticism was largely unwarranted as it pertained to news coverage. Mutana said that while radio stations offer people forums to express themselves, they lag behind newspapers and television in current affairs coverage. This is due to financial constraints (which tend to limit current affairs coverage in favor of inexpensive music programming) and the relatively few journalists adequately trained in radio journalism, she said. Nevertheless, a call-in radio program questioning police handling of unsolved murder cases led officers to interrogate Ssubi FM Editor-in-Chief Bashir Kazibwe twice last month, according to the local press freedom group Human Rights Network for Journalists.

Museveni's comments come amid public criticism of a government policy proposal on land and political rights in Uganda's oil-rich western region. The criticism stems from Monitor's publication of a leaked presidential memo proposing to restrict political and land rights to the ethnic Banyoro, whose traditional kingdom is the site of intense oil exploration.

The government did not dispute the contents of the memo, although spokeswoman Kabakumba Matsiko told local and international media that the document was misrepresented "as if it was a final decision." Monitor acknowledged some errors and published a correction. Nevertheless, police have interrogated Managing Editor Daniel Kalinaki, Sunday Monitor Editor Henry Ochieng, and reporter Emmanuel Gyezaho on accusations of "uttering a false document," according to defense lawyer James Nangwala.

Two other Monitor journalists were arrested recently on criminal charges related to their work. Moses Akena was detained on August 10 and charged with criminal defamation in connection with a corruption story. On July 21, Inspector General of Government Faith Mwonda had Monitor photojournalist Stephen Otage arrested for taking photographs of her outside a courthouse. Police seized Otage's camera and charged him with "criminal trespass." Mwonda is also the plaintiff in a criminal libel lawsuit against four Monitor journalists who raised questions about her salary in 2007.

In this context, many local journalists have expressed fears of a renewed government crackdown on the media in the run-up to elections in 2011. "We're anticipating things to heat up in the next few months especially as [Museveni] prepares for elections," said local journalist Bichachi. Mutana of Uganda Radio Network described the president's remarks as a proverbial cracking of the whip ahead of the election cycle.

One award-winning political editor, who suffered the whip of repression four years ago and currently faces at least 21 criminal charges in relation to his coverage, said he is undeterred. "I write what I think," Andrew Mwenda told CPJ. "I leave it to the government to think about what they will do."

UPDATED: We corrected Henry Ochieng's title after a commentator pointed out that he is Sunday Monitor editor. 

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Comments

Great tracker. Just a little correction. Mr Henry Ochieng is the Sunday Monitor editor, not a reporter.

And additional information: The trio Monitor journalists return for police interrogation tomorrow after which they are expected to be taken to court and formally charged with the offence of "forgery" and "uttering false documents."

While Museveni does, from time to time, wrongly harrass the press for rightly covering wrongdoing in his government, it would be wise to remember that there are two sides to every story. The Ugandan press corps has a lot to answer for in terms of irresponsible, inaccurate and yes, inciteful reporting. And Museveni is right, many of the publications exist to sensationalise national news and provide entertainment - pick up a copy of The Red Pepper or The Onion or the local language publication, Bukedde, if you don't belive me.

It behooves organisations like the CPJ to remember that even as they defend the rights of journalists, the privilege to inform comes with the responsibility to inform responsibly and accurately.

People in power world wide ought to know that they wield that power in trust of the people that elect them and should therefore refrain from harassing them over trivial issues. What comes around goes around. Whoever is enacting draconian laws will one day have to be answerable to the people why they made themselves Megalomaniacs.The writing is on the wall.Where is Mobutu buried?? What happened to the Mighty Saddam Hussein after conquering Kuwait and waging a bitter war against Iran? I'm not happy really. Besides, the powers that be should ensure that people are not dying of preventable diseases and women are not dying in Labor. Whoever steals tax payers money is prosecuted without fear or favor regardless of their political connections Otherwise, the difference between the current and past regimes will be the same.Build institutions that will live longer than us such that our descendants will be proud of us like in the USA.Failure to do that, the REAL almighty GOD or ALLAH or JAHOVAH you call him anything but he will INTERVENE and intervene very soon. Thats when the CORRUPT and GREEDY leaders will know that He alone is OVERALL.Whoever has EARS should HEAR & whoever has EYES should HEAR.Being forewarned is being FOREARMED.God hear the cries of the marginalized and poor people Let everyone concerned say AMEN.

Uganda is rich in evrything except the fact that it is still so poor in the aspect of leadership.to me there is no difference between president Museven and the historical rulers like Musolin,Hitler and Bismark because they also used the tricks of threatening and cencoring the press thus enabling them selves to cling in power for long as common population do suffers their corrupt regimes. God can only help Ugandans if they open up their eyes to see in the next coming elections.so let us pray come 2011!!!

life is in cycles yesterday it was obote after came amins and other then the current followed unfortunately he thinks the line ends with him... life is long and long indeed that calma is the word for all that we do... the preziden should know nothing got no end and still poeple brace yourselves for harder times ahead.