Ugandan media have a hard time positioning themselves between economic liberalism and political rigidity. While private-sector media enjoy real freedom of tone, state-owned media clearly supported President Yoweri Museveni during the March 2001 presidential campaign.

The thirty or so private-sector Ugandan radio stations enabled candidates in the presidential elections to spread their messages throughout the country. In February an opposition party, aware of the growing importance of the media one month before the elections, called for a boycott of the pro-government daily The New Vision. Supporters of Kizza Besigye, President Yoweri Museveni's main opponent, accused the daily of refusing to publish one of their leader's messages. The editors of The New Vision explained that the message in question contained "unfounded allegations".

The reason given by the national television channel for failure to cover certain opposition events was "problems with equipment". Candidates had to pay the channel's journalists to report their activities. By contrast, the activities of the incumbent president were covered throughout the campaign by a special team that provided national radio and television with "ready-made" reports.

After the elections several local observers said that Yoweri Museveni had received far more, better-quality coverage by public-sector media than his opponents. He was re-elected in the first round with close to 70% of the votes cast.

Three journalists with the privately-owned daily The Monitor, detained for three days in May 1999 and charged with "sedition" and "publication of false news", were acquitted on 6 March 2001. They were: Wafula Ogutu, David Ouma Balikowa and Charles Onyango Obbo, respectively managing editor, editor-in-chief and deputy editor-in-chief.

Three journalists jailed

On 2 October 2001 police arrested Richard Tusiime, managing editor of the privately-owned weekly The Red Pepper, James Mujuni, sales manager and Martin Mpooya, distribution manager. They were accused of "pornography" for publishing photos of teenagers having sex on the shores of a lake. The Red Pepper had done a report on parties held on Ugandan beaches by students during the holidays. The minister in charge of ethics and integrity had ordered the arrests, whereas the minister in the presidency said that the newspaper had done good work by revealing what really happened during the holidays. The three journalists were released on bail a few days later.

One journalist attacked

Supporters of opposition candidate Kizza Besigye assaulted a journalist from The Monitor, a privately-owned daily, on 20 February 2001 in Kampala. The assailants thought that the journalist worked for the pro-government daily The New Vision. Members of the political leader's security guards intervened to protect him.


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