US ambassador calls on government to safeguard freedom of the press

By Vivian Agaba

Malac said a free and independent media is essential for strong democracy.

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PIC: US Ambassador to Uganda Deborah Malac (center) with  Photojournalist lubowa abubaker (left) and Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung resident director Mareike Le Pelley (right) during the  Uganda Press Photography Awards (UPPA) yesterday in Kampala. (Credit: Hajarah Nalwadda)

HUMAN RIGHTS | PRESS FREEDOM


As Uganda joins the rest of the world to commemorate the World Human Rights Day on Sunday, US ambassador to Uganda Ambassador Deborah Malac has renewed her call to government to safeguard the constitutional right of freedom of the press.
 
She explained that a free and independent media is an essential element of a strong democracy, adding that countries can only thrive when their citizens are well-informed, and they are well-informed only when there is a professional and independent media.
 
Speaking during the book launch of five years of Uganda Press Photo Award (UPPA) publication held at the Square Place in Kampala on Tuesday, Malac said press freedom is under assault in Uganda, noting that journalists are facing a harsh and increasingly threatening environment.
 
The book launched aimed at celebrating the first five years of press award in Uganda since 2012-2016.
 
It show cases winning pictures and puts the subject of those into context, painting a vivid account of Ugandan contemporary society.

Some of the New Vision photo journalists that feature in the book include; Daniel Edyegu Enwaku, who won the 1stplace in the Sports category in 2012. In the same year, he won the overall winner picture of the year during the disastrous 2012 landslides in Bududa district.

Abu Mwesigwa was the overall winner in 2014, Abou Kisige was the overall winner in 2015, and Mathias Mugisha, the former photo journalist at New Vision won the 1st place in the category of nature in 2013.

In 2016, Miriam Namutebi, a female photo journalist at New Vision was in the 2nd place, in the Portrait category, and also received an honorable mention in daily life category, same year.

Giving few examples of media violations like recent shut down of some media outlet, like Kanungu Broadcasting Services radio, and arrest and detention of eight senior staff members from Red Pepper by authorities, she said such acts undermine media freedom in Uganda.
 
“All of these events undermine the constitutional right of freedom of the press in Uganda, and they hurt the development of the country. If the government believes that media stories contain falsehoods, there are legal ways to challenge these stories, as opposed to arresting journalists or shutting down media outlets,” she said.

“To reverse this media assault and reversing this deeply disturbing trend will require action from all of us. We renew our call for the government of Uganda to safeguard the constitutional right of the freedom of the press,” she added
 
Malac revealed that has met many journalists who have knowingly taken on great risk to ensure that Ugandans get information they deserve on key issues affecting their lives, and she has much admiration for them.

“I admire the bravery of journalists in Uganda and the many contributions they make to the country. They are committed and courageous, even in the face of a rapidly worsening media environment,” she said.

However, she called on reporters and editors alike to take more responsibility to ensure reporting is fair and factual, adding that Journalists, overall, should do a better job of fact-checking and ensuring they quote officials accurately.

Abubaker Lubowa, a photo journalist thanked the organizers of these awards, UPPA and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), saying years back, there were no awards recognizing best photographers.
 
He urged fellow photojournalists, both the old and young to participate in these awards to be able to gauge themselves, and pull up stocks where one is not doing well, thus facilitating the growth of photo journalism in the country.
 
Resident director, FES, Mareike Le Pelley, said it has been exciting and a great pleasure to see UPPA grow and photo journalists are being recognized for their great work.

She said most often, when journalism, media development are discussed, the focus is on written journalism, giving little attention or credit to pictures, yet they are highly emotive, speak more to the soul than words do and as such can be very powerful.