Stop beating journalists,  media isn’t the enemy

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Stop beating journalists,  media isn’t the enemy
Stop beating journalists,  media isn’t the enemy

Africa-PressUganda. As the country prepares to go to polls on Thursday, the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Mr Martins Okoth Ochola, said security agencies will continue beating journalists to deter them from “going where there is danger.”

Mr Ochola was on Friday speaking at a joint election security and preparedness briefing in Kampala. The other security chiefs in the country demonstrated self-control and quietly watched Mr Ochola in disbelief.

The IGP spoke with boundless authority and even refused to apologise for targeting harmless journalists during security operations. He incited violence against journalists with impunity and even bragged about it on camera. He fibbed that journalists with mere cameras, pens and notebooks were targeting security.

For the record, this is what Mr Ochola said: “We have heard complaints that security is targeting the media. On the contrary, it is the media targeting security. It is portraying security as brutal and siding with government.

When we tell a journalist, don’t go there and you insist on going where there is danger, we shall beat you for your own safety. I have no apology. We shall not apologise but we shall continue helping you not to go where there is danger.”

At this moment, we are not sure whether Mr Ochola fathoms the significance of Article 29 (1) (a) that guarantees media freedoms. The Article reads: “Every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.”

In Article 41(1), the freedoms in Article 29 are enhanced by the guarantee of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security.

The worst thing about being a journalist in the era of people like IGP Ochola is, of course, the continued attacks on the free press and reporters. Mr Ochola and other media tormentors in the security circles should be condemned in public interest.

Journalism is not a crime and journalists are not the enemy of the people.

This relentless assault on the free press has dangerous consequences and must stop. Mr Ochola has put the lives of frontline journalists at risk. He needs to withdraw the statements and assure the country that no reporter will be beaten in the line of duty.

We strongly urge Mr Ochola and others in security circles to take a cue from Ben Smith, who recently wrote in The New York Times, “…journalism has its own weird ideology that doesn’t match up with a party or movement. That you, the public, should know, rather than not know. That sunlight is the best disinfectant.

That secrets are bad. That power deserves challenge, including the power of figures most of our respective audiences admire. That compelling stories need to be told.” So, the liberty of the press is essential to security of freedom.

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