Ugandan Journalists need more than Museveni’s ‘magnanimity’

Written by Nicholas OpioPress reports indicate the president Museveni has paid the medical bill of former Wavamuno Broadcasting Station (WBS TV) journalists Mr. Lwanga Andrew.

Andrew Lwanga
Andrew Lwanga

The reports also indicate that the journalist has been checked into Kampala International Hospital for a specialized spinal cord surgery.

Mr. Lwanga had suffered a spinal injury when he was beaten with an iron rod by Mr. Mwesigye Joram, the former Old Kampala District Police Station. Mr. Lwanga and his colleague, Mr. Setimba Joseph were covering a demonstration by the Jobless Brotherhood, a youth group in Kampala.

At an individual level, this must have come as a relief to Mr. Lwanga. His former employer, WBS TV, like his spouse, had abandoned him in his moment of need after his injury.

Media practitioners had started a fundraising drive to meet Mr. Lwanga’s medial and personal bill. He was staying in his mother’s house.

But as a fraternity, journalists need more than just Museveni’s money and magnanimity if we are to ensure a none-recurrence of such violence towards journalists in the course of their duty.

First, it must not be lost upon us all that Mr. Lwanga, while covering a peaceful demonstration in Kampala, was needlessly assaulted and his camera destroyed when the former police commander failed to ran over them in his car.

Mr. Mwesigye Joram has since been suspended and charged before the Buganda Road Chief Magistrate’s Court for assault causing bodily injuring and damage to property.

His trial concluded last month after a little over a year of trial. The court is yet to deliver its judgment.

Mr. Lwanga, now nearly paralyzed, may needs urgent specialized medical treatment and president Museveni’s intervention may be timely.

But he and his colleagues need more than financial aid. They justice, fair treatment and respect in the court of their duty.

Far too easily, too many times, and with impunity, so many journalists have suffered the indignity of being attacked by the police – their crime, covering police brutality in dispersing demonstration.

In the case of Andrew Lwanga and Joseph Settimba, they ‘made the mistake’ of covering the police wantonly beating up unarmed and placard holding youths peacefully marching on the streets in a demonstration against youth unemployment.

In Pader, Mr. Brilliant Tito, a freelance journalist attached to the New Vision Newspaper found out that it was not after all a brilliant idea to cover a case of an alleged concealment by senior officer of a defilement case.

He was kicked several times by a Special Police Constable attached to Pader Police Station.

Reports by the Human Rights Network for Journalist (HRNJ), and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) documented 62 and 50 cases of police brutality against journalists in 2014 and 2015 respectively.

These reports and incidents have become too frequent to suggest a pattern of police disregard for the rights of the fourth estate. It is suggested that it is an attempt to conceal police excesses.

Yet each time they occur, the police chief or president dolls out a few shillings to the indigent journalists in a gesture of support, all the while transferring or putting on administrative leave the officers involved.

In fact the victim of assault, journalists, will be lucky to escape an accusation of wrong doing.

A BBC crew this last week learnt this when they were accused of being rude for filming Abim Hospital.

They were briefly detained and released with an apology from the Inspector General of Police.

The President and the Police Chief can only demonstrate proper remorse to Andrew Lwanga and the journalists fraternity by establishing an independent judicial inquiry into the conduct of police in managing public assemblies and in particular their treatment of journalists.

Independent police accountability is an important tenet of democratic policing.

It keeps law and order, not protect perpetrators by paying off victims.

There cannot be any better commitment for non-recurrence of violence against journalists than by establishing a protocol for police conduct in managing demonstrations.