At the 10th anniversary of The Observer, commemorated on Friday evening with a party for its readers, promoters and supporters, the chief guest, retired High court judge Patrick Tabaro, urged government to refrain from gagging the press.
Speaking at Kabira club, where the event was held, Justice Tabaro called for recognition of the importance of the mass media in influencing public opinion.
“Newspapers and other forms of mass media occupy a special role in influencing public opinion,” he said.
“Let us recall that publication of information is crucial in creating public awareness so that the ordinary people can take decisions based on facts.”
Tabaro’s words of caution come in the wake of the government’s new journalism practice guidelines, which many journalists see as a step toward restricting press freedom.
“Freedoms of expression and speech are enshrined in the Constitution and, therefore, nobody should be punished for holding or expressing their opinion,” said the judge.
Information and National Guidance Minister Rosemary Namayanja Nsereko, a special guest at the event, said the new media guidelines were drawn in the spirit of improving the level of professionalism in the media industry.
“The spirit of the new guidelines is to ensure that we improve the levels of professionalism… what we are saying is that if someone did not qualify, he or she should not just come and start practising without qualifications,” Namayanja said.
“Let that person go and acquire the academic qualifications and then practise the trade [journalism],” she added.
Under the new guidelines, journalists are required to pay a registration fee of Shs 200,000 and an annual licence fee of Shs 100,000. Journalists have, however, criticised the new fees, describing them as exorbitant given that it’s not a high-paying trade.
But Namayanja said the door for dialogue was still open.
“The principle is okay, but we can dialogue and see how we can implement [the new guidelines] for the good of the sector,” she said.
Namayanja commended The Observer for its distinguished, quality journalism. She said The Observer’s 10-year success story was the success of the entire media fraternity especially in a country where the mortality rate of media houses is so high.
Started as The Weekly Observer on March 25, 2004, the paper became a bi-weekly at its fifth anniversary and a tri-weekly in 2012 at its eighth anniversary. Managing Director James Tumusiime told guests that the paper was considering becoming a daily in response to market demand.
Tumusiime also reaffirmed the company’s commitment to quality journalism. The event was attended by about 200 guests from a wide spectrum of Ugandan society.
The media fraternity was particularly prominent, including the top executives of New Vision, Daily Monitor and Red Pepper publications.
Source : The Observer