By EditorJournalists have been assaulted in so many ways, and inaction is emboldening more and more perpetrators. Physical violence against reporters has become routine. This must stop or become costly for offenders.
It is hard to keep track of assault offences against journalists, whether by the police or army, other state officials or private citizens. The consequences are many, but can be summed into journalists failing to do their work, operating in fear and failing to act transparently.
As an aspiring democracy, we must underscore the role of the press as a link between authorities and the population and a ‘voice of a voiceless’. The perpetrators of these crimes against journalists fear to be held accountable for their actions and inactions and have been encouraged by a culture of impunity built over years. It is that culture that must be decisively dealt with.
This week, an official of the Judiciary is caught on camera assaulting a journalist. Eyes wide open and a clenched fist, Fred Waninda, the acting Commercial Court registrar in charge of planning, goes after Hannington Kisakye, a journalist attached to Smart 24 Television.
Mr Kisakye rushed to the police to file a case of assault but police officers declined to record his complaint.
In cases of this nature that we have witnessed in the past, offenders have negotiated with victims and settled the matters without recourse to court. Refer to the incident involving Mr Abraham Byandala, a former minister of Works. While in court facing charges of corruption, of which he would later be acquitted, Mr Byandala was caught on camera hitting a female journalist in the stomach. In another widely publicised case, soldiers openly flogged journalists who were covering a protest in Kampala in August last year. The army said action would be taken against the offending soldiers. However, nothing was communicated to the public after that.
Often, the assaulted journalists are approached to settle the issues after paying small compensations. This emboldens the offenders and implants a feeling of fear among other journalists.
We call on every right-thinking citizen to support and defend the development of a free press. Journalists must freely and independently do their work and opt for established mechanisms under our laws if assaulted.
Journalists cannot effectively perform their duties without public support, and many times have to put themselves in harm’s way to deliver the story. The prospects of such harm happening routinely, and with impunity, are scary and costly to all.