By Josepha Jabo
The Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura’s recent directive to the Criminal Investigations & Intelligence Directorate (CIID) to arrest individuals, who tell lies in the media, should not be seen as an attempt to gag the media.
Closely monitoring the media, to protect national security amongst other reasons, is standard practice internationally, especially in first world countries which Uganda is aspiring to become in 2063.
Endangering a country’s national security exposes it to an enemy nation, abets terrorism and can easily destroy peace and security. Hence, on June 3, 2013 after spending three years in detention, US soldier, Bradley Manning went on trial for leaking classified government information to Wikileaks.
This is why laws like the Interception of Communications Act, 2010 and the Official Secrets Act exist, in Uganda, and some government files are classified. Even in America, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) seals some files from the public eye, with a directive to be opened many years later when the contents therein are not likely to spark off a volatile situation.
For instance, after Rwanda’s genocide in 1994, it became illegal to discuss ‘Genocide Ideology.’ Given their sensitive history it is unacceptable for one to make statements that could spark hatred or ethnic tensions in the media or even in private.
Even their post-1994 electronic national identity cards do not indicate whether the bearer is a ‘Tutsi’,‘Hutu’ or ‘Twa.’ For example, on Tuesday, October 30, 2012, Rwandese Opposition leader Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, was jailed for eight years for uttering statements that were tantamount to genocide ideology, which, of course, endangered Rwanda’s national security.
When former US CIA spy, Edward Snowden recently leaked sensitive information to the press about a secret government programme called ‘PRISM’ run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) that monitors the phone records and internet activity of certain individuals he asked the Washington Post, on May 24, 2013, to publish a power point with 41 slides exposing the programme.
It is interesting to note the Post hesitated; preferring to consult the government about the potential damage such an expose could pose to national security. In the end, the newspaper editors acted with discretion when they published only four out of the 41 slides.
Incidentally, Snowden has been linked to Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange, who is hiding (political asylum) in the Ecuador embassy in London UK. Meanwhile, President Obama said his country was, “Going to have to make some choices between balancing privacy and security to protect against terror.”
Likewise, local media houses should have consulted government officials concerning national security before publishing General David Sejusa’s letter.
During the May 30, 2013, press conference, at Uganda Media Centre, where Minister of Internal Affairs, Engineer Hilary Onek announced the reopening of the Daily Monitor offices after the 11-day closure he said, ‘The police treated the Monitor premises…as a scene of crime, because apart from the letter, certain crimes had been committed by the Monitor Publications Ltd in particular violations of the Official Secrets Act.’
After reviewing their editorial policy, it is a credit to the NRM that these media houses (who bounced back with the headlines, ‘We’re Back!’ and ‘We’ve not been cowed’) were allowed to reopen as the Sejusa letter was merely an allegation (he had asked the intelligence machinery to investigate) and not fact.
Yet, the letter was erroneously perceived, by the public, as having factual basis. In a recent interview with the Daily Monitor, the Information Minister, Rose Namayanga said, ‘Press freedom is not absolute. Press freedom must not injure the freedom of others and even the national security.’
In conclusion, the NRM government is not interested in whitewashing the media to present only a rosy picture, Uganda’s media can be as hard-hitting as they want to be, provided they are factual and responsible regarding the information they present to the public.
The writer works for Uganda Media Centre
Endangering national security is a crime