The tension between the Uganda police and local journalists escalated over the weekend after journalists walked out of a meeting with the chief of police, Gen. Kale Kayihura.
The meeting which was called on Saturday evening by police and the Media Centre was scheduled for 9:00am but Kayihura showed at 9:45am and immediately informed journalists that he was only available for 15 minutes.
Later, a few journalists walked out before the Inspector General of Police concluded the meeting after he proposed that journalists who cover protests should be accredited first.
“Our proposal is accreditation. We should have clear accreditation on who covers security operations,” Kayihura said as journalists booed.
The meeting comes days after journalists announced a boycott on government and police briefings following assaults and harassment by police and military personnel as they covered the return of opposition leader Kizza Besigye on May 12.
According to the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), more than a dozen journalists have been physically attacked, including being shot, intimidated, arbitrarily arrested and detained since the ‘Walk to Work’ campaign started nearly a month ago.
The journalists also had their equipment including cameras and notebooks confiscated by the military and police officers on May 12.
Kayihura, who apologised for what had happened to the journalists, said that the beatings were not discriminatory as other people had also been victims.
The police chief accused the media of unfairness in their reporting.
“A lot of times, what comes out is not balanced,” said. “It has tended to be unbalanced to the disadvantage of security. The images out there are a distortion of facts.”
In a separate interview with the Saturday Monitor, Kayihura accused NTV a private broadcaster, the Daily Monitor and the government owned New Vision of being biased in their reporting.
He added that journalists are “deliberately mobilised” by opposition and had “politically biased minds.”
“We are demanding fairness,” Kayihura said. “They are embedded with people going to walk to work. That is where we found the problem.”
He said the police was not asking journalists to “whitewash” their coverage of demonstrations but “let’s all operate in a manner that does not injure the other”.
The Coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists, Mr Wokulira Ssebaggala, presented a petition to Gen. Kayihura and sought another meeting to discuss the same issues.
“We are concerned about the deteriorating state of safety of journalists while on duty,” Mr Sebaggala said. “All we want is respect of media freedom. We want those who beat journalists arrested and prosecuted.”
The African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) has also condemned the attacks on journalists.
“We are concerned by the now seemingly systematic and deliberate targeting of media personnel by security operatives apparently to bar them from covering details of police and security conduct during demonstrations,” Dr. Peter Mwesige, the Executive Director ACME said in a press release issued over the weekend.
ACME said IGP Kayihura’s attacks on the independence of several media houses could unfortunately be construed as a justification for police to unleash brutality on journalists.
“Attacking journalists who have clearly identified themselves and who are not in any way interfering with police work is indefensible,” Mwesige said.