Ugandan media practitioners are embroiled in an ethical debate over a
move by their association to request a cash donation from President
Yoweri Museveni, writes Dennis Itumbi for journalism.co.za.
At a World Press Freedom Day dinner addressed by Museveni, Uganda Journalist Association (UJA) chairman Joshua Kyalimpa reminded him that he had failed to honour a previous pledge of Uganda Shillings 100M to aid the group's operations and programmes. Museveni made the donation, raising the amount by 50m.
The reminder came in the course of KyalimpaÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s speech chairman outlining the troubles facing journalists in the country such as the 'exodus' of trained reporters to more lucrative sectors, the emergence of quacks, commercialization of journalism at the expense of content and programming, as well as laws that stifle media freedom.
Museveni, who has in the past closed media houses and prosecuted critical journalists, told guests that he was committed to press freedom and challenged the media to report the truth. He dismissed the notion that Uganda has laws that constrain journalism.
"I do not see how the law on sedition infringes on journalistsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ freedom of expression, it is technically impossible to be charged with sedition if you are telling the truth," he said.
It was however, UJA's request for money that caused an uproar in newsrooms. The Monitor Publications' managing editor, Daniel Kalinaki opposed the handout:Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â "If we journalists have to go hat-in-hand to the PresidentÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â for money, then I am afraid we have a problem. I encourage the association to find more independent sources of finance, to ensure there is always some kind of distance with the President," Kalinaki argued in a statement.
New Vision's Editor in chief, Els De Temmerman, chose to stay clear of the ethical dimension of the debate only saying, " we continue having trouble accessing information and one hopes that will be solved, on the issue of the money there is a debate and I will offer my opinion in due course."
Museveni has however defended the offer and said he was only honouring a request by journalists.
"it is sacrilegious in African culture to reject an offer and if the journalists reject the money from the government, then they must reject funding from any foreign groups or governments," said the President.
Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda, a journalist with the Observer and a former chair of the association, argued, "We cannot agree with the President, to an extent of receiving cash from him, yet we know that press freedom is a long way to come, already a phone tapping law is before parliament and soon we will not have sources giving us information, which journalist survives with those kind of laws?"
"In Uganda , letÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢s face it, the democratic situation is not improving as we head to the 2011 elections and so we do not expect press freedom to improve," observed Ssemuju who has been charged with sedition and promoting sectarianism.
"Receiving cash from the state is going to bed with the people you are supposed to be putting on the microscope and eroding the principle of the Fourth Estate that demands an eye bird's view on the issues of state and government, besides the president did not tell the truth on the laws, some bad laws still exist like criminal defamation, sedition, and they have grabbed a few victims in the past we must note with authority," Wnayama Wangah a journalism lecturer at Uganda University, Mukono observed when contacted for comment.