By Solomon Lubambula
After several days siege at the Daily Monitor Publications, operations have resumed normally with a few skeptics on the future of media freedom.
On a visit to the Daily Monitor premises this morning(two days after the re-opening), the journalists seemed to be a jovial mood, at being fully back in operations towards their cardinal role of informing the public.
In an exclusive interview, Richard Wanambwa who authored the controversial story that sparked off the closure and siege of the Media house told the UNWANTED WITNESS that despite the odds, as scribes he is determined than ever before to maintain the ethical standards of the profession in order for him to save the public.
“The right to privacy was interfered with because in the process of searching for the document which they claim they were searching for, actually they did not only interfere with the right of Wanambwa’s privacy but a lot of other people` s here were interfered with, work was halted, be it the radios, the newspaper, the IT, the finance section, so in a general sense everybody here was not in that moo,d where you think you would want to make a call, receive an email because we expected everything to be tapped and monitored”.
He says that after this rigorous search by the Police, a lot of his vital information and other personal things were misplaced.
“Personally yes there was a lot of interference for example my locker where I keep my documents, I found a lot of things missing like laptop, camera, and recorder these are the basic instruments that we use to gather information……,but the suspicion was that this is the author of the story, yes he has ABC…….even other documents after verification that they were not related to the story were taken, even notebooks were taken”
He says that the violation of his right to privacy did not stop at his office in Namuwongo but also extended to his family. This interference affected his family members who were psychological tortured when unknown people continued to trail his movements.
“ am still not sure on how to move whether to move by vehicle, by motorcycle, foot, you have that sense of ‘you are not safe and everybody you meet looking suspicious to you’ have to give a second glance whether it is a government operative or not”.
He warns that giving in to any form of intimidation by the state would be a betrayal to the professional. Wanambwa says that he still stands firm that he will get information and channel it out. However the question remains with his employer. Will the Daily Monitor Newspaper remain firm to publish that incriminating story about government?
“but for me even if you fired Wanambwa, I can always get somewhere else in the media and I would still do my job, because work ethics overrides the personal and institutional interests, the press and journalist Act calls for protection of our sources so if I let down the public today, tomorrow the public will loss trust in me and then the Monitor will suck me because I will not be able to bring a story, so am answerable to the public”.
The middle-aged journalist warns that the effects of infringing on fundamentals freedoms especially of expression, the right to know and the right to privacy at the daily monitor journalists would equally affect the entire fraternity in terms of increased self censorship.
Meanwhile a smiling Wanambwa had good comments to some of the people within government, whom he says during the trying times continued encouraging him to stick to the journalism principles and the noble work.
But again my survival can be attributed to some people in government, Very senior people highly placed in security and cabinet could call and encourage me not to reveal my sources. “a senior minister called and warned me not to reveal my sources adding that if I revealed my source I would be re-writing a constitution because under the press and a journalist Act am mandated to protect the source”.
He explains that the anonymous minister stressed that if the source is ever revealed, every story published, the newspaper would be required to reveal the source and subsequently the public would loss trust in the journalists and there would be no news.
On the future of Media Freedom in Uganda, Wanambwa who is inspired by a former colleague Andrew Mwenda advised the private media houses to stand by their journalists in serving the public and defend the voiceless. And turning to individual journalists, Wanambwa asks scribes to stand firm on the journalistic principles no matter the challenges and threats from the state, if the profession is to uphold its esteem.
Wanambwa said that in every profession when you stand your ground and perform you will never get an award but the only reward you will get is satisfaction from the public.
“Say when you meet a stranger and say oh I know you, you have done this, you stood your ground, thank you very much…. that is what satisfies me not money not anything”.
To fellow journalists, people in this fraternity stand your ground; you can be intimidated because there a lot of pressure people will call and intimidate you but stand your ground.