Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Chief Justice Alfonse Chigamoy Owiny-Dollo says The Daily Monitor must stand its ground in defence of the truth and quality journalism as the newspaper marks thirty years of existence.
Delivering a keynote address at a dialogue commemorating the thirty years since the founding of The Monitor, in 1992, Justice Owiny-Dollo commended the newspaper for what he described as its unrelenting spirit in the fight for media freedoms over the years.
While observing that The Daily Monitor has delivered to its promise to render quality service to its readers, he cautioned its management not to allow the vice of complacency or triumphalism to set in as it embarks on its journey as the oldest independent newspaper in the country.
The first edition of The Monitor was published on 31 July 1992 by a team of journalists led by Wafula Oguttu, David Ouma Balikowa, Charles Onyango Obbo, Ogen Kevin Aliro, and Richard Tebere among others. At the time, the newspaper became one of the strongest critics the privatisation process.
It was one of the papers that provided alternative voices for the opposition players during the Constitution-making process which climaxed with the promulgation of the 1995 Constitution in October 1995. The Monitor which then positioned itself as a paper that builds the nation would soon be viewed as an opposition newspaper at the time when political parties were banned under the then Article 269 of the 1995 constitution.
Apart from contributing to the quality of journalism, the Chief Justice particularly hailed The Monitor, later renamed The Daily Monitor, for the role it has played in the protection and the defence of the constitutionally guaranteed rights. He said some of the legal battles that the newspaper was engaged in over the years have been able to get rid of some of the colonial laws like Sedition, and publication of false news among others.
He cited the Justice Mulenga Supreme Court ruling in the popularly quoted Charles Onyango Obbo, Andrew Mwenda vs Attorney General. According to Justice Owiny-Dollo, the Mulenga ruling is cited with approval in many countries around the world.
The Daily Monitor through its former journalist, Andrew Mwenda, also successfully battled against the law on Sedition which was then part of the Penal Code Act. The Constitutional Court ruled against the law of sedition saying its interpretation was so wide that it incriminated everybody in the enjoyment of one’s right of expression of thought.
The court declared that sections 39 and 40 of the Penal Code were inconsistent with Articles 29 and 43 of the Constitution and struck them off the Penal Code Act.
The Monitor’s founding editor-in-chief, Wafula Oguttu, said the paper has over the years been mistaken to be a voice of enemies of the ruling party. He denied that the mission was to oppose President Museveni’s government. He said the paper got that label because it offered space for everybody when there was no other media house to offer that space.
“I think they expected us to do a different paper, but we said we shall maintain independence and do a paper that talks to everybody that stands firm for people’s rights,” he said
Oguttu decried the increasing commercialisation of journalism in Uganda and Africa. He said the governments have also invaded journalism for spying.
“When I was at The Monitor I knew there were about four spies of government. I knew them. I knew three, I didn’t know the fourth one. But we discussed with Charles Onyango Obbo and agreed that we shall not fight them, we shall leave them but we knew they were spies,” said Wafula Oguttu
Oguttu added: “I think there are issues that we have to discuss as journalists. You become a spy for the government instead of building a career because of little money,”
Wafula says that despite being taken over by the Nation Media Group, The Daily Monitor remains a strong brand the way it was founded and built. He observed that while it is a tough time for the media industry, The Daily Monitor should be able to survive for another thirty years.
The Minister for ICT and National Guidance, Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, congratulated The Daily Monitor upon reaching thirty years of existence. “Thirty years is not a joke either for a human being or an organization like The Monitor,” said Baryomunsi
He urged the media owners to among other issues address what he described as intellectual laziness among the young journalists.
According to Baryomunsi the most experienced journalists have left newsrooms for better pay and they left the media houses with less experienced ones. He said there is need to also to have journalists better remunerated to ensure quality journalism.