Media analysts urge gov't to use Media Council to settle disputes

Two journalism lecturers at Makerere University have argued that government should use the Media Council rather than criminalising publication of stories that it does not like.

 They said the recent raid of The Red Pepper offices and detention of its editors and directors is an infringement on media and press freedom as enshrined in the Constitution.

They argued that government should have complained to the Media Council rather than closing The Red Pepper and its sister publications.

Five Red Pepper Publications Limited directors and three editors were arrested on Tuesday last week following police raid of their head offices, situated in Namanve, along Jinja Road.

The directors include; Arinaitwe Rugyendo, Patrick Mugumya, Johnson Musinguzi, Richard Tusiime and James Mujuni and editors are Ben Byarabaha, Richard Kintu and Francis Tumusiime. They were detained at Nalufenya Police Station in Jinja, arraigned in court a week later and remanded to Luzira until Tuesday next week.

The arrest came a day after the publication of a story, on November 20, headlined; "M7 plotting to overthrow Kagame - Rwanda."

The lecturers, with extensive knowledge in the media, argued that government should have reported this case to Media Council, a regulatory body created to handle media related complaints.

The Media Council was established by the Press and Journalist Act of 1995 and is charged with the regulation of the Mass Media and settlement of complaints that may arise from stories published or broadcast across the country.

Dr William Tayeebwa, the head of Journalism and Communication Department at Makerere University said the arrest of journalists is an indication of criminalisation of journalism.

Adolf Mbaine, a lecturer at the department of Journalism at Makerere said whatever the story published by The Red Pepper, the arrest of its directors and closure of the company is unjustified. He says this case is a bad precedent for the media industry in Uganda.

Mbaine said tabloid journalism is an acceptable form of journalism though it may not be pleasant to some people.

"Those who are celebrating the raid and detention of editors are shortsighted. When freedoms are abridged, it's just a matter of time before somebody gets them as well. If somebody is celebrating their concept of humanity is absurd," he says.

Mbaine, who does research in media regulation and the political economy of the media, said many people aggrieved by The Red Pepper stories have sued the company and they have been awarded hefty damages by court.

Tayeebwa explained that tabloids publish information that people would not want to be published. He says the information published by tabloids "is usually right."

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