This commentary was published as the day’s editorial by Daily Monitor on Wednesday, 19 October 2016. It’s republished with permission from the publication. For more news and information, visit www.monitor.co.ug
The Observer newspaper is reeling from a hurtful and disruptive break-in at its headquarters where miscreants swept all newsroom computers.
By leaving the keyboards behind and picking only selected laptops and documents from particular lockers, the burglars gave themselves away as meticulous actors on a mission, and unlikely common thieves greedy for every grab.
We assign no responsibility because we do not know the masterminds of this odious act. But the intent is plain: Frighten the newspaper’s journalists, and broadly the Ugandan media, to retreat from critical reporting that exposes malfeasance and holds the mightiest to account.
And we are not infallible in executing our duty in spite of rigorous internal checks. Media houses can, and do get it wrong. Sometimes the information is incomplete, biased, misrepresented or turns out not to be the truth. When we err, we are obliged to apologise and make appropriate amends.
Any aggrieved person who has a genuine case has options; petition for a right of reply, seek arbitration through the Media Council or file a suit in courts of law.
We ask then: Who are these so doddering not to be civil in pursuing redress that instead they choose this abhorrent path? Information Minister Frank Tumwebaze called the night incursion “criminality”, which indeed it is.
Such attacks on unlikely targets such as media headquarters signpost to the world a more terrifying decay about our country’s governance: The rise of impunity and the erosion of public confidence in state institutions’ ability or willingness to maintain law and order, guarantee safety of citizens and their property.
We do, as indeed does the nation, await the outcome of ongoing police investigations.
Let police, however, be on notice not to bungle its inquiries like it did with the June 2008 break-in by armed masked men into the head office of Pepper Publications, publisher of the Red Pepper.
As a newspaper that the government has shut down twice, besides similar closures of our sister KFM radio and Nation Television (NTV) station, we understand the absurdity and economic squeeze of such unwarranted disruptions.
Like Dr William Tayeebwa, head of Makerere University’s Department of Journalism and Communication noted, it is immaterial whether The Observer raid was state-sanctioned, executed privately by riled and wayward state functionaries or the handiwork of thieves.
It is an attack on constitutionally-enshrined freedoms of expression, and we condemn it, and such other previous break-ins against rights organisations, as deplorable infringements.