The first Uganda government-convened meeting to address the growing rift between the media and security agencies was called yesterday by the Minister for Security, Henry Tumukunde.
The meeting was held against the backdrop of several reports by Ugandan and international organisations listing security agencies, particularly the police, as the worst offenders against press freedom, freedom of expression and civil liberties in the country.
Mr Tumukunde said he had called the meeting to address the increasing friction.
“Interface between security and media is important because both have a mission to defend the population,” he stated, noting that both parties trade in the business of information and have similar goals.
“Media can undermine the development process of the country especially if information is not factual or poorly processed and disseminated at the wrong time. Consequences of bad media reporting can create uncertainty thus threatening peace and stability and breeding latent conflicts which can cause violence,” Mr Tumukunde said.
Mr Charles Odoobo Bichachi, Managing Editor of Daily Monitor, however said the responsibility of communicating factual and important information about the country is not the sole responsibility of the media. He said a lot of critical information about government business is hidden from public scrutiny.
“We don’t have a law regarding declassification of document,” Mr Bichachi noted. “Government can hold information for one hundred years while in other countries information is made available after 30 years so that the public is able to know how certain things where conducted in the name of security.”
Deliberations at the day-long meeting also focused on the sour relationship between journalists and the police.
Mr Kin Kariisa, Chief Executive Officer of NBS Television, called on security agencies to respect the work of journalists and to act humanely when dealing with them. He said that the hostility of the police means that “it has become too expensive to cover some characters like Besigye”.
In 2016 two NBS Television journalists, Remmy Bahati and Elijah Turyagumanawe, were detained by the police as they reported on the prolonged house arrest of opposition leader Kizza Besigye following the general election. They were never charged in court.
Also in attendance at the meeting was Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who called on government to improve communication and embrace divergent ideas.
“Sometimes the wars between the media and government are uncalled for. We need to better understand each other, better communicate and better inquire from each other,” he said.