Lack of journalistic integrity, inaccuracies and fabrication define media in Uganda, says Els De Temmerman, a former top editor at the New Vision newspaper.
"What is happening in the Ugandan press is pure exploitation and fabrication," Ms De Temmerman told the US ambassador at the time shortly after her resignation as editor-in-chief in October 2008.
According to a new set of Wikileaks cables, Ms De Temmerman, a Belgian national who had taken the job in 2006, further decried before Ambassador Steven Browning what the cable says is the lack of journalistic integrity in the Ugandan press.
The editor cited lack of editorial independence as the reason for her resignation. The New Vision is owned 53 percent by the government. Myriad shareholders own the rest on the stock exchange in Kampala.
Ms De Temmerman said journalists are often paid to write stories, according to the cable, aimed at destroying political rivals or advancing private economic agendas.
The ambassador wrote: ‘She pointed to coverage of the recent National Social Security Fund's questionable purchase of land belonging to Security Minister Amama Mbabazi and approved by Finance Minister Ezra Suruma. She said that a “considerable amount of money” exchanged hands as Parliament's probe moved forward and that a number of her journalists had been offered bribes to "hit Mbabazi hard."’
In the cables, Ms De Temmerman accuses New Vision CEO Robert Kabushenga of stifling the paper and making it impossible for her to run it as an independent publication.
She says Mr Kabushenga had increasingly mounted pressure on her to put President Museveni on the front page and to run pro-government stories.
Mr Kabushenga, however, maintained at the time that the "editorial independence of our product [New Vision] is not dependant on one individual ... and that The New Vision affords sufficient autonomy for professionals to do their work."
Ms De Temmerman also singles out The Red Pepper saying its content is “90 percent fabricated”; and Mr Browning describes it as a ‘salacious tabloid that is used by the government and private individuals to malign enemies’.
The editor expressed worry over the growth of readership of The Red Pepper saying “some Ugandans might actually mistake it for factual journalism”.
She, however, commends the Daily Monitor on being balanced save for serious accuracy problems with some stories.
To solve the problems in the media industry, Ms De Temmerman suggests formal training to ‘teach the journalists how to write a story or maintain journalistic integrity’.
She also wants journalists to meet some minimum pre-determined standards before being allowed to work. The cable does not contain any suggestions as to what those minimum standards should be.
The former editor also pushes for self-regulation, possibly through a regional body, and greater journalistic exposure and access to information through the Internet.
The ambassador weighed in, arguing that low salaries for entry-level journalists had led to journalists seeking employment elsewhere.
“The result is that although most of the managing editors, feature editors, and some senior writers are skilled, no pool of qualified mid-and lower-level reporters develops,” he writes.
He adds: “Moreover, the lack of financial support for background research and fact checking forces most reporters to write shallow stories based on current events and single sources. Internet access at most media houses is limited. Reference books and libraries are limited or non-existent. Additionally, many of the newspapers lack comprehensive story archives making it difficult for reporters to build on previous reporting.”
Ms De Temmerman returned to her old job at the New Vision only to quit again in 2010.