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Uganda aims to temper the rise of its 'gutter press'

In order to temper the media sensationalism and obscenity it says has run rampant, Uganda's Ethics Ministry has introduced a bill that would broaden the definition of pornography.

Young men sell newspapers on the street in Kampala, Uganda, in this March 10, 2009, file photo. Uganda has seen a recent rise in a 'gutter press' of tabloid newspapers and magazines that sensationalize sex and violence.

Mary Knox Merrill/The Christian Science Monitor/File

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Under the relatively tolerant regime of President Yoweri Museveni, the East African nation of Uganda has spawned some hard-hitting publications calling corrupt and incompetent leaders to task. But a “gutter press” focusing on sex, murder, and scandal has begun to dominate the newsstands to a degree unseen in the region and arguably anywhere in Africa.

“2010: Year of Nudity,” screams one quasi-pornographic newpaper cover on a typical newsstand outside one of the capital's top secondary schools, Lubiri SS. Below that is a magazine with a cover featuring mutilated bodies. Less than half the stand’s offerings led with serious social or political issues.

In order to temper the sensationalism it says has run rampant, Uganda's Ethics Ministry has introduced legislation that would broaden the definition of pornography include “under-clothed” persons and forms of communication that “descries or exhibits sexual subjects in a manner tending to stimulate erotic feelings.”

Critics say the draft bill – which will be motioned for passage shortly after presidential elections in February – is worded too broadly and is susceptible to abuse. But Ethics Minister James Nsaba Buturo insists something must be done.

“Our papers aren’t helping to constructively develop our country,” says Mr. Buturo. “Sex and violence have little bearing on explaining things of importance to move the country forward.”

Rise of Uganda's 'gutter press'

The most famous of Uganda's tabloids is the Red Pepper.

Employing “snoops” using cellphone cameras, the paper captures unknowns in compromising positions, turning them into instant celebrities. It also stands accused of inaccurately reporting on the private lives of politicians and entertainers. But the Pepper’s punchy packaging of sex and gossip has propelled it to a near-top circulation figure of 30,000.


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