Bill Freivogel, for the Pulitzer Center
After half a day talking to Ugandan journalists who face death threats and government intimidation I found myself advising them that they should form an independent journalists' organization and to resist the government created licensing board. I did admit that this advice might be easier given than carried out.
We've had a fantastic two days with about 30 very bright Ugandan journalists and NGOs. At first, when they introduced themselves, I thought they looked uninteresting and sort of dull. I found that they were amazingly bright and engaged. We ended up in very complex discussions of law and ethics on journalism. They knew more about what world human rights conventions say about freedom of expression than I did. It would be no overstatement that I have learned a lot more from the conference they I have taught them.
They tell of editors and publishers who won't back them on big stories - of death threats that some journalists receive - of radio stations closed down if they oppose the government - of the government newspaper, named New Vision, refusing to run the pictures of any opposition candidate in the paper - ditto for the government run TV. They tell of frequent bribery of journalists who give up big stories for cars. NGOs tell of journalist insisting on free meals and turning against them if they don't provide them. The journalists tell of corrupt NGOs set up by politicians to siphon off money to the people. There was one recent NGO headed by a man from Denmark who gives rural residents a piglet in turn for them agreeing to take his name. He claimed he was only trying to encourage "one worldism."
We had a fantastic discussion of whether you can transplant free speech directly into a country like 1993 Rwanda where the free speech of the radio announcer resulted in genocide. And then, closer to home, we discussed how the newspaper exposés on the president of Uganda selling forest to an Indian entrepreneur for a sugar plantation had led to a small riot in which Indians were attacked and one killed. The president then blamed the press and NGOs for planting the seeds of the attack on the Indians. So here was a good journalistic cause that was tainted by identifying the sugar cane owner as an Indian. To their great credit, the Ugandan journalists were willing to criticize their own work for having mistakenly put too much emphasis on the nationality of the owner. You will recall that Idi Amin threw all of the Indians out in the 1970s. Many have come back and are leading business people. For that they are resented. It is interesting that the leader of our group of visiting journalists is herself from the part of India that has sent so many business people to this country.
We drove into Kampala from the safari late Friday night. The street was alive with people, outdoor shops with food, stacks of small green bananas and slabs of meat hanging in the open air. Lots of men could be see in little barber shops getting hair cuts. Taxis had 10-15 people per car and there were open bed trucks with about 30 men each.