Veteran journalist, Andrew Mwenda has said neutrality for journalists is a fallacy, adding that it is not easy to achieve.
“It is very difficult (to achieve). Let us remember that journalists are products of the societies in which they work. Journalists will therefore reflect the biases, prejudices and assertions of their societies,” Mwenda said.
He was speaking during the occasion to mark the world press Freedom Day at the Media Challenge Initiative in Kampala organized by the European Union.
“In polarized environments, it is very difficult for journalists not to take sides. Assuming you were a journalist in Rwanda in 1994, shouldn’t you have taken side that there was a genocidal government? Assuming in where a journalist in Nazi Germany, shouldn’t you have taken sides? I believe journalists should have a moral compass and should come to their job with a set of values, norms and ethics they are willing to follow even if it reflects them or they are misunderstood to fall on a certain side.”
He insisted that when society is polarized, it is very difficult for journalists to be an exception by being neutral while doing their work.
“Even when they try to be exceptional, no one will accept that. For example, today I will criticize Museveni, tomorrow I criticize Bobi Wine. Today I may defend a position Bobi Wine has taken and tomorrow I defend a position of Museveni. This will create confusion as people ask where you stand. As an independent journalist, you must stick to your beliefs and therefore neutrality doesn’t support anything. That’s not journalism. Neutrality means you have a set of values you can defend .”
NBS Television’s Canary Mugume couldn’t agree more.
“Neutrality is something very hard to achieve. Should journalists die while seeking neutrality?
It requires to be truthful but not neutral. On whose behalf should be seek neutrality,” he questioned.
Mugume cited an example of a Michael Kalinda, better known as Ziggy Wine, a singer whose death pitted government against the supporters of Robert Kyagulanyi .
Whereas Kyagulanyi and his supporters claimed the singer had been tortured to death, police said he had been involved in a deadly accident along the Northern bypass as he rode on a motorcycle.
“I went to the field to seek the truth which we presented but some sides didn’t see us neutral. In doing my work, I don’t think I will ever be neutral but I will always seek to be truthful,” he said.
Wilson Akiiki Kaija, an assistant lecturer at the department of journalism at Makerere University said the issue of neutrality and impartiality of journalists is always rushed.
“For me, I look at it as a binary debate. Whenever there is an issue, we rush to think there are two sides to it and we begin positioning ourselves to one of the sides. We look at the issue of impartiality in a narrow sense to think we shouldn’t be on the other side or this side but walk in the middle ground. Sometimes the middle ground may not exist,”Kaija said.
He argued that there is need to rise above the noise created by the binary debate.
“In that noise it is difficult for a journalist to explore the issue of impartiality. We need to look at issues from a vantage point where we are able to decide which direction to take and how to do it without necessarily being encumbered whether you need to be impartial or not.”
“ If someone is being killed there, what would be the sense of impartiality in this? That I am going to be impartial and not tell this story? May be you are siding with the side oppressing the other.”
The EU deputy ambassador to Uganda Guillaume Chartrain said journalists must be neutral in whatever they do.
“It is crucial to assess the foundation of trust between the press and its readers. It is therefore of utmost importance to ensure your articles uphold neutrality and integrity which form the bedrock of the moral contract between you and your readers,” said Guillaume.
“In our modern era, freedom of expression has never been more crucial, serving a linchpin for the realization of all other human rights, is we navigate a world filled with challenges, we recognize that the preservation of free, independent and pluralistic media is essential for building resilient and healthy democracies.”