Ugandan reporters deny pro-PM bias
By Halima Athumani, Wednesday, March 19, 2014
KAMPALA – Several Ugandan journalists have shrugged off accusations by the presidency of bias in favor of Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi, who is thought to be nurturing his own presidential ambitions.
"The ongoing labeling of journalists as 'Pro-Mbabazi' is a calculated move to send shockwaves among media practitioners," Robert Ssempala, national coordinator of the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda, told Anadolu Agency.
"They want to crack down on critical media and deny the public from getting dissenting views… in the mainstream media," he said.
Earlier this month, President Yoweri Museveni's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) held a stormy meeting at which Mbabazi was put on the spot over his alleged presidential ambitions.
At the meeting, Uganda's Internal Intelligence Organization produced a list of 150 journalists who were allegedly being paid – between $990 and $44,350 per month – to support a possible presidential bid by Mbabazi in polls slated for 2016.
The list has since circulated on some local media outlets and on online social-media networks.
The development, Ssempala noted, comes amid mounting political tension within the ruling NRM, with Mbabazi being accused of planning to contest 2016 elections, thus "undermining his boss."
According to Ssempala, the allegations about the journalists constitute "a fundamental issue that every journalist should stand up to and speak out against."
"All dissenting views must be given a fair platform [so that] the public can make informed decisions as to who should be their next leader," he said.
When asked for comment, Josephine Mayanja Nkanji, who heads up Mbabazi's press team, laughed out loud.
"That's my response," she told AA. "That's one of the things we need to put in the rubbish bin. It's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."
Nkanji insisted that the list of alleged paid journalists should not be taken seriously.
"I can't even imagine, seriously; I have nothing good to say about it [the list]," she said.
"When it comes to the prime minister's press conferences, we don't pay – you come knowing it's what you want to do. We are not going to pay for any publicity," added Nkangi.
According to the list, Agnes Nandutu, president of the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association, receives $1180 a month in return for tacitly supporting the prime minister.
"I found my name on that list," she told AA. "Those people [Mbabazi's critics] are using the media to fight their wars."
"I'm not in journalism to market politicians; I work as a journalist because it's my passion," Nandutu said. "These people are messing up our country."
Meanwhile, Bernard Tabaire – media trainer, newspaper columnist and radio and TV commentator – allegedly earns $4750 a month, according to the list.
"I've met the prime minister twice at a radio studio, as a [program] host," he told AA.
Tabaire denied ever meeting any agent or relative of Mbabazi.
"I know nothing of the politics going on. Maybe that was the intention of contacting those named in the list," he said. "I'm completely clueless."
The name of Angelo Izama , who currently works for a state-owned media house as a consultant, also appears on the list.
He says the apparent conflict between President Museveni and PM Mbabazi has spilled into multiple Ugandan institutions.
Izama said the list exposed the relationship between Uganda's security and intelligence agencies, which, he asserted, had become the primary battlefields between the two rivals.
The list, he added, indicated that a number of security agents were involved in "political intelligence and not national intelligence."
Copyright © 2014 Anadolu Agency