Thursday, 30 May 2013

Uganda Gov’t lifts ‘siege’ on newspaper, but will it remain the same?

After 11 days of Uganda Police siege at Daily Monitor, which published a letter that rubbed the powers up there the wrong way, government has agreed to open the newspaper. The reopening of Daily Monitor, has been announced by the outgoing internal affairs minister, Hillary Onek. 

The letter written by Gen David Sejusa (Tinyefuza) alleged that top government officials opposed to plans to have President Yoweri Museveni’s son succeed him were on the assassin’s list. Gen Sujusa is out of the country reportedly in London and police will question him when he returns.

But, the reopening of Daily Monitor comes with strange terms. The terms that the newspaper's parent company Nation Media Group, management agreed to are neither here or there. This is because terms that Onek read out are akin to the journalists’ ethical code of conduct. Does this give the impression, on government's side, that Daily Monitor violated this ethical code? Is what we are reading the public face of the deal? 

Well, in the events leading up to this announcement, several closed door meetings had taken place in Kampala, Nairobi and Addis Ababa. And, soon we'll have details of what exactly happened in these closed door meetings.
Police officers manhandling some of the journalists protesting media closure

However, what is clear in the statement Minister Onek just issued is that apology Daily Monitor managers gave to government. “They (Monitor Publications Ltd managers) highly regretted the story that led to the closure of the Monitor newspaper and KFM and Dembe Radio stations,” says Onek in a statement.

It seems in the eyes of Uganda government Daily Monitor violated the ethical code of conduct. This is curious because fewer governments are comfortable with independent press. On many occasions president Museveni has not hidden his frustration with Daily Monitor which he severally labeled an “enemy newspaper”. Therefore it was less surprising that his government acted angrily shutting down two newspapers and radio stations in the name of national security. 

For now, it's too early to tell how Daily Monitor will be affected by the siege and the terms of opening set by government. But the fate of the Red Pepper, another newspaper closed over its coverage of the same letter, is not yet known. Government has said it is having a meeting with the Red Pepper.

Much as the lifting of  the police siege at these the media houses comes as a relief to the industry and well-wishers, it has, without a doubt, had a chilling effect on many newsrooms in the country. Many editors may switch to self-censorship mode to play it safe. There is the example of CBS FM, a Buganda Kingdom owned radio station which was closed in 2009 for a year. Hopefully, Daily Monitor comes out of this circus even stronger. 

Below are some the terms Monitor management agreed to with the government of Uganda.

… As a follow up to the undertakings in the meeting between H.E the President and the Nation Media Group, a delegation led by myself met representatives of the Nation Media Group at the Ministry of Internal Affairs. On the Government side, the meeting was attended by Hon. Rose Namayanja Nsereko, Minister for Information and National Guidance, Gen. Kale Kayihura, Inspector General of Police, Mr. Christopher Gashirabake, the Ag. Solicitor General and Mr. Ofwono Opondo, In-coming Executive Director, Government Media Centre. The Nation Media Group was represented by Dr. Simon Kagugube, Chairman Monitor Publications Ltd and Mr. Linus Gitahi CEO. In the meeting the Media Nation Group made written undertakings to the Government.
Specifically, the following are the highlights:
(i)          They highly regretted the story that led to the closure of the Monitor newspaper and KFM and Dembe Radio stations.

(ii)         They undertook that the Monitor newspaper will only publish or air stories which are properly sourced, verified and factual.

(iii)        They also undertook that the reporting in the Monitor newspaper will always be objective, fair and balanced.

(iv)       They undertook to be sensitive to and not publish or air stories that can generate tensions, ethnic hatred, cause insecurity or disturb law and order.

(v)        They acknowledged that there had been violations of their editorial policy by their Reporters and Editors in Uganda. They availed us with a copy of their Editorial Policy and undertook to ensure that both the letter and the spirit of the policy are respected.

(vi)       They undertook to tighten their internal editorial and gate keeping processes, to ensure that stories that impact especially on national security are subjected to the most rigorous scrutiny and verification process before they run.

(vii)      Further they undertook to seek regular interface with the Government of Uganda to ensure that the undertakings they have made will be respected and implemented.

(viii)    They undertook to ensure that the Monitor Publications Ltd will  observe and comply with the laws of Uganda. In particular they committed themselves to co-operate with the Police on the ongoing investigations. 

14. In view of the above mentioned commitments and undertakings by the management of the Nation Media Group/Monitor Publications to the Government; and at the request of the management, the Police has called off the cordon of the Monitor premises so that they resume their normal business as police continue with the search.

Dated at Kampala this _30th_day of_May_2013.
Eng. Hilary Onek (MP)

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