International Justice/ICC: Sept ‘09

IWPR story on media crackdown helps strengthen press freedom movement.

International Justice/ICC: Sept ‘09

IWPR story on media crackdown helps strengthen press freedom movement.

Thursday, 12 November, 2009

As Uganda’s national elections draw ever closer, IWPR is playing an increasingly important role in fostering debates on some crucially important issues in the country.

A recent article about the dangers of a crackdown on the media ahead of the 2011 vote is one IWPR story that is being especially cited by organisations at the moment for highlighting some of the difficulties that are facing ordinary Ugandans.

Campaign agents are tasked with visiting the to get the latest updates about what is happening in the country.

“We visit the IWPR website and print the stories, so that we can refer to them the next day during our political rallies,” said Patrick Omara of the Forum for Democratic Change, FDC.

Since few people have access to the internet, there is usually a high demand for the copies that have been printed off.

“We read the printed articles during campaigns because we believe that IWPR has got good credibility,” said Mike Ogwal Aconga of Uganda Peoples’ Congress, UPC, an opposition party.

Frank Oyugi, news editor of Lira-based 95.3 FM, was particularly enthusiastic about IWPR’s coverage of media repression in the country, which he says is frequently under-reported by national news outlets.

“The article is highly relevant to the current situation in Uganda,” he said. “Without IWPR, I don’t believe any news organisation would have been able to give us the truth.”

Oyugi said that the repression of journalists in Uganda is a serious problem, which must be addressed, adding that IWPR’s coverage of the issue is an important step in the right direction.

“The government is trying to suppress the legitimate role of the media,” he said. “Government officials want journalists to market them to the people, so that they can continue staying in power, without writing about what afflicts the common man.”

He urged journalists to be honest in their reporting, to produce articles that focus on the real issues, without compromising the reporting in favour of the government.

“Any serious news organisation that wants to protect the ethics of the media should stand up and publish the kind of stories that IWPR are producing,” he said.

Oyugi tempered his words, however, by saying that media repression is not as bad as it was in the past, particularly during the 1970s when Idi Amin maintained a fierce stranglehold over the nation’s press.

Judith Atim, news anchor with Radio Lira, agrees that IWPR stories have great potential for improving the standard of journalism in the country, and bypassing censorship.

“There are lots of lessons to learn from IWPR stories,” she said. “Reporters should remain objective on whatever story they are handling so that they can convey the truth.”

She thinks that the story on press censorship will be of particular concern to the government, since it hints at a hidden agenda.

Whilst praising the work IWPR has done so far in highlighting media suppression, Dan Okello, leader of the UPC party for Lango sub-region, cautions that pressure must be maintained, if there is any chance that the 2011 elections are to be held fairly.

He asserts that the charge of defamation is being used more and more to scare, intimidate and inconvenience journalists.

IWPR’s latest article is positive step, but more still needs to be done, he says.

“I continue to condemn the violation of human rights by the security agencies and paramilitary in Uganda,” he said. “The NRM (National Resistance Movement) human rights record is one of the worst in the world.”

Charles Martin Jjuuko, the International Criminal Court’s acting outreach coordinator, also commended IWPR-trained reporters based in Uganda for their investigative pieces, such as the recent press crackdown report.

He said the court has shown interest in working with the reporters to cover its country-wide outreach activities.

Bill Oketch is an IWPR-trained reporter.

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