Friday, December 16, 2011

Security officials, journalists seek understanding

MUNYONYO, UGANDA--The often-strained relationship between government and media was put under a bit more pressure today as the first peace media and counterterrorism seminar concluded.

Specifically, government spokespeople from the army, police, and local government and journalists sparred over whether the Ugandan government was justified in banning live coverage of protests earlier this year, and restricting official updates of the investigation of the July, 2010 terrorist bombings in Kampala. Each side played its part, with the journalists crying foul at the heavy hand of the government while the security officials maintained that the moves were designed only to protect people and property. Predictably, no consensus was reached. I did express my opinion that the ban on live coverage represented a journalistic decision, and thus should not have been made by the government. (Photo-eager seminar participants)

As the State Dept-sponsored seminar wrapped up, however, the government officials and journalists did find agreement in their desire to prevent terrorism and mitigate its effects if it does occur. Towards that end, they jointly developed an agreement—a collaborative framework—that laid out their responsibilities vis-à-vis terrorism.

Within the framework, the journalists pledged to not use inflammatory language or engage in sensationalism, to verify information, the “preach the gospel against terrorism”, to respect security officials, and to provide a platform for the government to inform citizens about counterterrorism. For their part, the security officials agreed to look on journalists as their allies and to respect them, to make themselves available when needed by journalists, to collaborate with the media in identifying terrorist threats, and to protect the media when violence does occur.

I was thrilled to hear these frequent adversaries agree on the need to protect their fellow Ugandans. As the seminar ended, I lauded the participants for their commitment, and encouraged them to follow up by discussing their pledges with their colleagues in security and in the media. It’s my hope that we built some permanent bridges during the last three days that will ultimately benefit not only the participants but more importantly Ugandan society in general.

Click here for photo album of peace media-terrorism seminar.

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