Disturbed by the continued negative portrayal in both the local and international media, President Yoweri Museveni last week meet at least 65 journalists whom he hopes to use to paint a better image of the country.
The meeting, The Witness has learnt, was coordinated by Lt. Col. Edith Nakalema, the head of the State House anti-corruption unit who is understood to have worked with senior journalists, Simon Kaheru, Barbara Kaija, the editor-in-chief at The New Vision, and Red Pepper’s Arinaitwe Rugyendo to identify the 70 journalists who were invited to meet Museveni.
After drawing up the list, Nakalema telephoned each of them at least five days ahead of the meeting which was held on Tuesday, March 16, at State House Entebbe.
“She was clear in her communication that, “It is not a press conference but a meeting with the president,” a source that attended the meeting said.
The list had mainly broadcast journalists including renowned talk show hosts and news anchors from stations such as NBS TV, UBC TV, BBS Terefayina, Capital Radio, Radio Simba, CBS FM, Bukedde TV and Bukedde Radio.
At least five of the invitees, notably, Oskar Semweya-Musoke, host of the Capital Gang on Capital FM, and Face-Off on NBS TV, did not turn-up.
“We spent the entire there as they told us patriotism and how we can use our platforms to rebuild Uganda’s image,” a source said.
For at least five months, President Museveni has been in the news mainly for the wrong reasons that for the first time in his more than three decades rule, is facing growing international pressure over alleged human rights violations and the crackdown on his political opponents.
The donor community particularly the European Union (EU) and the United States have denounced Museveni’s January 14 victory, saying that the election was neither free nor fair.
As the US called for an audit of the election results, the EU Parliament resolved in February to slap sanctions against Ugandan officials involved in the gross human rights abuse and harassment of opposition leaders.
This was before Museveni’s challenger in the January 14 elections, Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu (Bobi Wine), withdrew a petition he had filed in the Supreme Court, accusing it of bias and lack of independence.
On March 9, Bobi Wine announced at a press conference that he would now put the case before the court of public opinion.
During the Entebbe meeting, Museveni asked the journalists to help his government to counter Bobi Wine’s “public court” campaign as he also opened his ears to the challenges affecting the journalists.
One by one, the journalists spoke about their poor working conditions and poverty, telling Museveni that he had what it takes to change their livelihoods.
Kaija thanked Museveni for allowing the press to operate freely as NBS TV’s Samson Kasumba complained about his April 2020 arrest which Museveni promised to investigate.
He also promised to take them on a tour of his ranch at Kisozi in Gomba district so that they can come back and give their listeners tips on how to get out of poverty.
While some journalists spoke freely about the meeting, others denied having been part of it.
“Let whoever is saying that I attended that meeting bring evidence with photos. Museveni is one man who can’t miss a photo opportunity with anyone he has met,” a journalist said.
Senior presidential press secretary, Don Innocent Wanyama said that there is nothing wrong with Museveni holding a meeting with journalists.
“It is not criminal for the president to meet journalists just like he meets teachers, doctors etc. If details of the meeting were not shared, it means that what transpired in that meeting was not for public consumption,” Wanyama told The Witness.
At the end of the meeting, each journalist was given a ‘transport refund’ of Shs 1 million.
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