Should gatecrashing journalist be tolerated in name of press freedom?


Whatever annoyance the journalists may have caused to the two FDC party members of a party struggling to attain political power, allegedly using force to force them out was, untactful.

It is a fact that without media coverage, political parties and their leaders would reach a much smaller public. In spite of complaints by people in public life about Media “intrusions”, they would never have attained public recognition.

It was, therefore, morally the right measure for FDC to apologise to the media fraternity, and to discipline its party members who allegedly assaulted journalists while pushing them off their party headquarters. Hasn’t anybody ever told them that in human relations, and especially in the media domain, individuals and organisations receive lenient treatment during a time of adversity because they have been helpful and cooperative in the past?

However, even though journalists must be allowed to do their work without hindrance, should gatecrashing, freeloading or sponging, [which I believe is not what happened in this case, but sometimes allegedly happens in some other cases], be tolerated in the name of press freedom? But do journalists who are overzealous, become inadvertently unprofessional in their work or cross the red lines of privacy, have to be assaulted? Certainly not.
Suffice to mention that truly professional news reporters probably do not have to force themselves into premises where, or when for some reason, they are not welcome and the owners of the premises do not have to disclose the reason. Besides, there are better methods or tactics for getting uninvited reporters off one’s neck or premises. Sensitive political and strategic issues or matters of a delicate nature can be obtained by requesting for written statements after a closed meeting to avoid suspicion of misrepresentation of facts.
True, anyone who has lived in a country where the media is routinely harassed would have no squabbles agreeing with the view that democracy cannot develop without press freedom.

A free press serves to strengthen or accelerate the attainment of democracy through the smooth flow of news and information. Although it is the journalists’ job to get as good a story as much as possible and to get something unusual, it is their professional responsibility to use fair reporting and means of obtaining information.

After all, the word news reportedly means ‘a contraction of news’; which might be the reason journalists attempt to give a new twist to a story or ‘find a different way of presenting the same facts’; making it easy for public figures like politicians to get away with the claim that they were misquoted.

Is getting a story such a life and death situation that some inexperienced journalists have to use questionable tactics to get information? Newspapers shouldn’t run a story when it is likely to be a painful one because of the way it is presented. The way a story is presented or obtained, all in the name of innovativeness, can make all the difference to its effect on those concerned.

That is why all government ministries and departments, armed forces, political parties, private and public organisations, among others, now employ experienced media consultants, spokespersons, experienced press secretaries or public relations officers cooperate with the news media.

This is because they are well aware of the value of what is known as good press, and try to help journalists to do their job. They get to know the various journalists who are professional, ethical, fair and willingly avail them with information, but deny it to those who are only anxious to get a story regardless of the consequences to the people or organisations they are reporting on, or even to themselves.

While press conferences and briefings are a common practice these days, it is also permissible through public diplomacy for journalists who have shown sympathy in the past to be invited to be given the true story.

Mr Baligidde teaches at Uganda Martyrs University-Nkozi.