The editor of New Vision’s weekend papers was this week summoned by the Criminal Investigations Directorate (CID) of the police and interrogated in relation to a news story published in the Saturday edition.
The paper reported that the Inspector General of Police, Gen Kale Kayihura, had had his security beefed up in the aftermath of the Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence arresting senior police officers.
Thus, the editor’s crime is publishing a news story “with intent to disturb or attempt to disturb the peace, quiet or right or privacy of the inspector general of police.”
A threat to press freedom as this development is, it is not isolated. A few weeks ago, it was Daily Monitor and Red Pepper editors who were summoned by the police over news stories related to the age limit amendment debate.
In addition, Stanley Ndawula, a journalist who runs an online newspaper, was this week arrested over news stories about criminality in the Uganda Police Force, and was still in detention as we went to press.
The rationale of these actions is clearly to intimidate and silence journalists who dare touch subjects that powerful people find uncomfortable.
However, while they claim to work within the confines of the law, they are oblivious of the Constitution, the supreme law, which guarantees freedom of press in Article 29(1).
It states that “every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.”
In inserting that clause, the makers of the Constitution were well aware of the positive role that free media can play in promoting democratisation and good governance.
The media are messengers of the public with a cardinal duty to hold public office-bearers accountable for their actions and failures.
This noble principle must not be torpedoed by short-term personal or political interests that appear to be driving the current media clampdown.
Like the police, other institutions and individuals, journalists are not infallible, but it’s wrong to seek to criminalise anything those in power don’t agree with in the media.
Why not use the same media to address whatever the aggrieved officials dispute rather than resort to strong-arm tactics?