By Walusimbi Ronnie (Ph.D)
The world's political land scape there is no doubt is troubled. This has had negative implications especially on the functioning of the media and the free flow of information for the media to fulfill their watchdog function of keeping an informed citizenry. The media have the fundamental responsibility of informing their respective audiences throght reflecting to society what is happening as they (media) are the ears, eyes and voices of the people they inform. In this case, the media act as a flashlight which illuminates what darkeness hides, and all the evil especially that which those in authority indulge in at the expence of the governed to avoid accountability and therefore sweep abuse of office under the rug.
As conflicts continue to rage especially in the name of fighting terrorism in countries that the West has blclisted as rogue states, it is obvious journalists are operating in a more hostile environment. Even in countries with centuries old culture of democraqcy and media freedom, the press is being censored althouigh in a more subtle way.Many Journalists continue to lose their lives as they stick their necks out to meet the obligation of getting factual, informative stories. Such colleagues should be saluted for their courage, bravery and should be inspirational to others in the historically oldest profession.
In many countries especially those with fledgling democratic institutions, Journalistss, Editors and publishers are intmidated, assaulted,detained or worse still murdred for simply reflecting the truth or for daring to express opinion contrarary to those of governments of countries from where they operate. There continues to exist a love-hate relationship beteween the state and the media. In this case, the media are viewed not as partners in development but state enemies. In countries with fledgling democracies it is even worse as press freedom remains a myth.
The state would wish the media to do do public relations for it regardless of whether they are independent. Otherwise, a democratic state provides a strong legal foundation for the media to operate independently without fetters and black mail. Press freedom and democracy are like siamese twins; one cannot exist without the other. In other situations, oppressive pieces of legislation have been enacted to curtail a free vibrant media, Uganda is one of them. For instance, the government enacdted the Press and Journalsit Statute 1995 which requires Journalists to register to practice at the whim of the Minister of Information who is answereable to the president.
There is no country which prides itself to champion the cause of press freedom and then institutes a legal frame work for the licensing of Journalists. This automatically robs the media their independnce from the state which they have to write about and hold accountable for this actions and way of governance. Different countries have also legislated terrorism laws in the wake of the disastrous attacks on the United States on September 11,2001. Some of the provisions of these laws are not media friendly as in some instances governments view the media aas providing oxygen to terrorists when they cover their activities regardless of whether such information is in the public interest.
Media professionals regardless of frontiers, should continue to put constant pressuere on their respective governments that continue to deny their citizens the badsic humna rights especially of the right to kniow and access information as enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948. The call is that Journalists should be granted their inalienable right to report freely without fear aas long as they do it with their professional frameworks.
As Former US Supreme Court Judge Felix Franfuter once observed in one of his missives on a free press,"Freedom of the press is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of achieving a free society," those words still ring credible currently. Promoting free media is really about advancing human freedom. For people to play an active role in the politics of their respective countries, they must be informed. Government's support of a free media should be grounded in the belief that with a full and complete understanding of affairs in their country and in the world, the electorate will always choose for themeselves those institutions, practices and policies as well as statesmen that best preserve and protect fundamental civil and economic rights.
At a time when human rights and democratic governance have become catchwords universally, there should be no complacency in this effort. The global battle by the Journalism Fraternity to attain media freedom and preserve freedom of expression and of speech has to continue despite the sacrifices that have to be made.