Police in Masaka are under fire today as journalists around the country mark World Press Freedom Day. A number of journalists claim that they are regularly intimidated by the police or persecuted for reporting the truth.
Human Rights Watch, a New York-based lobby organization, today released a report on press freedom in Uganda titled, "A Media Minefield: Increased Threats to Freedom of Expression in Uganda." In the report, the police are accused of being a major force against media freedom and free speech especially at radio stations outside Kampala.
According to the report, threats made against journalists come either directly from police or from people working closely with police, such as Resident District Commissioners. Often these threats go completely undocumented and unreported. Journalists simply change their reporting and focus on issues less likely to get them into trouble.
Issa Aliga, a freelance journalist who operates in Masaka and Rakai, claims to be a victim of police harassment. He accuses the former Southern Regional CID Officer, Moses Byabagye, of arresting and torturing him because he wrote about an allegation of the misappropriation of money by the officer.
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Byabagye could not be reached for comment on Aliga's allegations. However the Southern Regional Police Spokesperson, Noah Serunjogi, says gone are the days when police had an acrimonious relationship with the press. He admits that some friction still exists, but that the opening of community policing units has made both the police and the public more tolerant of each other.
Peter Kikutte, an avid media consumer, says journalists need to admit that they too have shortcomings and to improve the standard of their work. He says that while some journalists are being harassed, others bring problems on themselves by open political bias and reporting rumors and lies.
Kikutte cites the example of Kamunye, a Luganda language newspaper, which on March 6th reported that Democratic Party leaders had blocked the new party president, Norbert Mao from visiting Masaka. He says it was later discovered that this was a lie.
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Kikutte says a professional media will be able to demand for more freedom from government.