He plants his tripod on the floor, spreads it accurately, like a sniper looking for a better angle. He adjusts his Sony camera, one eye tightly shut and focuses on his subject. He pulls his headphones over his ears. The sound is right. Action! In the second row, third seat from the left, she sits. Toneless. Bored. Hungry. She stifles a yawn and adjusts her glasses on the bridge of her nose. Is she bored? Of course she is. You would be. She dips her fingers in her large bag and fishes out her notebook and a pen. Her phone is in silent mode. Palm on her chin, she listens.
He puts one knee on the ground, his Nikon Camera in hand and presses ok. Flash. Captured. He checks the picture. It’s out of focus. He goes back on the ground, one knee kissing the floor, like he is asking a girl for marriage, and presses ok. Flash. Captured. He checks again, he has it. Finally. On the radio, she clears her voice, greets her imaginary sea of listeners and goes ahead to read a bulletin to them, these faceless listeners. It looks like she is speaking to herself, like she is retarded (or about to be), but she doesn’t care. This is her job. Her dream job. She loves it here.
In the newsroom, he is laying pages for the next paper. The deadline is crawling up his back. He spots a typo in the headline and changes it immediately. The editor is breathing down his neck. He proofreads the page with squinted eyes before he sends it to production. Done. There is a cartoonist trying to expand his subject’s nose. There is a TV presenter checking herself in the bathroom mirror, just to make sure that her makeup is right before she goes on air. She doesn’t want to read Tweets on her TL saying that she had a shiny face, or her eyebrows were out of shape. Women!
These are journalists.
While they go through all this maze of events to deliver news to the public, their freedom is stomped on. By who?
That’s the question that lingered in people’s minds on World Press Freedom Day on Tuesday. World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a recommendation adopted at the 26th Session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991. This in turn was a response to a call by African journalists who in 1991 produced the landmark Windhoek Declaration on media pluralism and independence. Folks gathered at Golf Course Hotel, Kampala, and ping ponged ideas as they commemorated this day. Civil society activities came in droves. Journalists were present. The president was in the audience, too. Yes, the president of the Ghetto (rather Ghetto President) Bobi Wine.
But before that.
In his opening remarks, Zie Gariyo, ACME Deputy Board Chairman, said, “In Uganda, although the media is vibrant, threats to it still remain.” That sunk in. Deeper. The media is vibrant, yes, but the threats remain. The threats to shut media houses that cover certain stories. Before the sun went to sleep today, Jim Muhwezi had threatened to close media houses that give coverage to the defiance campaign by Dr. Kizza Besigye. These threats, even when voiced by a quieter lad in Jim Muhwezi, weren’t received with open arms and wide smiles. They were rather received by clenched fists and venomous words were aimed at him.
Their freedom is stomped on. By who?
The debate continued at Golf Course Hotel. More people walked in. #ThisIsFreedom hashtag trended online. The press raised their antennae. The public weighed in the conversation. More speakers walked on stage. These ranged from Ms. Patricia Mahoney-Deputy Chief of US Mission. “Journalists around the world continue to be harassed for just doing their jobs,” she said. The audience nodded. Dr. Adolf Mbaine-a PHD Candidate, University of Johannesburg-took the audience to law school as he lectured about 20 years of Press & Journalist Act in Uganda.
Other speakers were: President of Uganda Law Society, Mr. Francis Gimara, Ms. Margaret Sentamu (Uganda Media Women’s Association), Mr. Peter Magellah (Chapter Four), Mr. Fred Otunnu (UCC), Mr. Patrick Tumwine (Human Rights Network), Mr. Peter Katonene (Africa Freedom of Information Centre), et al. There was also a HRNJ Award Ceremony where different journalists were recognized. Thereafter, Bobi Wine bounced to the stage. Irene Ntale sashayed to the front too. Arts journalist Moses Serugo joined her, together with Ms. Rosebell Kagumire, a blogger. They were to discuss the freedom of expression and dissemination for non-traditional media. And they did. The audience watched on more intently with an interest of what, say, Bobi Wine would say. He never disappoints. He didn’t disappoint. He was his usual intelligent self, so was Moses Serugo who poured acid on the bubblegum that is Ugandan music. Irene Ntale was peeved by Serugo’s remarks. She pouted and fired back. Okay, she didn’t pout. It heated up.
The clock ticked on. Evening set in. The event was inching to the close, so was the day. The event was supported by the U.S and Swedish Embassies in Kampala and Hivos, a Dutch international organization. Inside Golf Course Hotel, folks had spent the day talking about the freedom of journalists. And outside, as darkness inked the sky, journalists were still seeking that freedom.