Op-ed: Uganda's Top Tabloid Isn't News, It's a Hit List

Uganda's tabloid rag, the Red Pepper, not only puts people's lives in danger, but it steals the materials to do so.

BY Michelle Garcia

March 11 2014 11:50 AM ET

A group of people in Uganda masquerading as journalists working at what some might call a "newspaper" have decided that defying copyright laws and general journalistic ethics is completely permissible.

And I am livid about it.

Admittedly, I've never picked up a copy of the tabloid newspaper Red Pepper or the defunct Rolling Stone (no relation to that other Rolling Stone), but we all know some of their most prominent work. These are the people who like to publish the names, photos, and contact information of LGBT Ugandans, encouraging readers to basically attack them — for no reason, other than being LGBT.

The people who run the pile of hot garbage known as Red Pepper have done this a couple of times. In fact, a Ugandan high court ruled against Rolling Stone's publishing of names in 2010. That time, the tabloid listed 200 names, under a banner that read, "Hang Them." That was before Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill had passed!

Here's the other reason I'm so irate: Our news editor, Sunnivie Brydum, worked for months to safely secure publication of photos and identities of LGBT Ugandans. We made sure that every single person identified in the piece had given consent and understood that their identity would be published in The Advocate, for the sake of bringing the stories of LGBT Ugandans to our readers. The story and photos, which were published a year ago, are currently nominated for a GLAAD Award. And days after the law was passed, the hacks at Red Pepper essentially lifted the article and photos verbatim and published them with the pure intent of inciting hatred and violence.

The people who were included in our story knew of the repercussions that they could face if their identities were made public through our reporting. They were incredibly brave for putting themselves out there. Especially since this is the Internet — barring international firewalls in censor-happy countries, no news source that lives online is really restricted to just the country where its servers are based. The Advocate has online readers from Africa and the Middle East, in countries that criminalize homosexuality, sometimes with the death penalty. Some of our readers here in the United States are insane homophobes whose obsession with fighting against LGBT rights should be a signal to get thee to a therapist.

So there was no question that antigay crazies in Uganda could read our reporting and go after the LGBT Ugandans we featured.

Now activsists, attorney, and lawmakers are not only challenging the constitutionality of Uganda's "jail the gays" law, but they are also seeking an injunction from Uganda's High Court that would stop any of these publications from printing hit lists.

Forget copyright laws, though — anyone with a basic education knows stealing is bad, and that plagiarism is a no-no. But the fact that a supposed source of news would take our work, word for word, and publish it with the intent of endangering LGBT Ugandans is undoubtedly disgusting, cruel, and inhumane.

As I mentioned, a court in Uganda ruled that publications needed to stop publishing these lists. But these "journalists" are completely fine with allowing people to be fired for no reason, mobbed for no reason, arrested for no reason, and even killed for no reason. Well, unless you think being gay is a reason to die.

I guess these so-called journalists are playing God now too, in addition to pretending to be journalists. Yet as far as I know, neither Jesus nor his dad has really been too vocal about homosexuality, so I am not sure where they're getting this crap from. If anything, Jesus does focus a lot on compassion and being nonjudgmental. It's kind of his thing. But whatever, religion isn't my forte. If Neil deGrasse Tyson led a church, I'd be throwing money at it.

Rolling Stone's publication of names in 2010 led to the violent death of LGBT rights leader David Kato. Nearly four years later, a new list has already resulted in some people being fired from their jobs, and others to be kicked out of their homes. My hat goes off to every LGBT Ugandan who has ever spoken openly about who they are, defying the overwhelming odds against them. And as for the Red Pepper? Well, we would never resort to running the photos of its editors on our cover with their contact information. But one can dream.

 

MICHELLE GARCIA is The Advocate's managing editor, and she's really scared of her African heritage being Ugandan, but that's fodder for another column. Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia.

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