UGANDA: Media, police try to mend fences

The love-hate relationship between the police and the media in Uganda was the subject of a meeting between representatives of the two groups in Kampala this week.

And from the look of things, a lot more needs to be done for the police and media to working amicably and serve the public.

It was noted at a breakfast conversation on police –media relations hosted by the Uganda Media Development Foundation with support from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) on October 5 that collaboration between the two was still largely lacking.

Mr Asan Kasingye, Assistant Inspector General of Police, described the relationship between them and media as “not cosy”.

Representatives of media houses and groups on the other hand accused the police of criminalising civil offences by journalists.
In the past the police have been accused of using excessive force while performing their duties and in the process injuring journalists as well as ordinary citizens.

Various cases of police assault on journalists, especially photographers, have been reported between September 2009 and July 2010.

In March, a Daily Monitor photo journalist, Isaac Kasamani, was held by police for hours, and his camera confiscated because he was taking photographs of women from the opposition coalition who were donating items to a hospital in Kampala. He was forced to delete the pictures while in detention.

In June, a policeman kicked another Daily Monitor Photographer who was covering a demonstration. The policeman allegedly told the photographer that he was taking pictures with the purpose of denting the image of the armed force. He grabbed and smashed the photographer’s camera.

During the September 2009 riots, about 20 cases of assault on journalists by police were reported.

Mr Kasingye condemned brutal acts by the police against the media and said that all the officers involved in such incidents are always punished according to the law.

He also spoke of some of the issues straining the relations between police and the media, including police not providing timely information to journalists, leading to speculation.

Kasingye however noted that there was a need to balance the rights of journalists and national security.

“Journalists need to ask themselves what effect information they ask for will have on the security of the public and also on the investigations,” he said. “They need to appreciate that the information could jeopardise security.”

Ms. Betty Dindi, the NTV News Manager, highlighted various stereotypes the media and the public in general have towards the institution of the police. Among these were that the police institution is “outright corrupt, violent and must use force, abuses human rights, is anti-opposition and is an enemy that cannot be trusted”.

Mr. Haruna Kanaabi, the Executive Secretary of the Independent Media Council of Uganda observed that while the police want to be trusted, the new Media Crimes Department “criminalises” the work of journalists and has led to more mistrust. The Media Crimes Department was established two years ago, allegedly at the instigation of President Museveni, to investigate alleged crimes committed via print and broadcast.

Kasingye however said that the department was not set up to muzzle the media but to have an office with people specialised to handle cases involving media.

“We were professionalising the Criminal Investigations Department to make sure that we had departments relating to various types of offences in the Penal Code like Homicide, Economic Crimes and Media Offences,” he said.

Mr Ibin Senkumbi, the spokesperson for the Kampala Metropolitan Region also noted that while police have clear mechanisms of holding their members accountable when they go against their code of conduct, media houses did not seem to have the same.

Many media houses profess to follow in-house as well as local and international codes of ethics.

Senkumbi called upon media managers to hold their journalists accountable when they break violate their ethics.

Various media representatives advised the police to clear its image first in order for them to freely interact with the media at a more positive level.

Mr Peter Girke, the KAS country representative, called upon the media and police to work together as the country heads for 2011 general elections.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *