I have read your article about the Red Pepper and the current detention of its directors and editors with a lot of interest. While my immediate feeling was that I should ignore it after all it is your opinion, I now feel it important to respond your several allegations as a former staff of the Red Pepper. I worked with the Red Pepper from 2001 till I resigned in 2009 to do my private business. I can proudly say that I worked closely with all the persons currently in detention and I am proud to stand up for all of them as strong, hardworking and responsible men.
Personally, as one of the pioneer staff of the Red Pepper, I was nurtured by its directors to take on different roles from news writing to marketing to advertising to circulation to transportation etc, despite the fact that at the time I was a student at University. They taught me business acumen, resilience, passion which have been important in my journey thus far.
The Red Pepper has been in the business of tabloid journalism for close to 20 years now. They were in fact the pioneer tabloid in Uganda. Tabloid journalism is sensational. It touches on personal aspects. It reports that which the mainstream newspapers may overlook. It will not ‘cuddle you’ (pun intended) when you have scandal. So it is understandable that people like you may find it necessary to celebrate when the Red Pepper is faced with what I would call a ‘small’ challenge. Yes I call it so because when I went to visit my former bosses in jail, that is what they called it. And that is their spirit. They are men with spirits that are hard to crush. Don’t joke with men who were bold enough to start a newspaper with just a borrowed laptop and are standing strong in business almost 20 years later. I can assure even after this challenge, whatever comes out of their current legal situation, I know that my former bosses with rise up again and shock people like you who celebrate this ‘small’ challenge and who choose to allege all sorts of things at a time when they are locked up and can’t defend themselves. And by the way, I am not their staff anymore and have nothing to gain from this response.
When I worked with the Red Pepper, I noticed that it was the only company where staff and directors comfortably mixed, shared roles and went out to share a drink after a tough day’s work without the usual tensions that come naturally between workers and their employers. I can bet that in the several companies you may have worked in, you need permission to enter your CEO’s office and it is hardly likely that he will give you a ride or you will sit in the same kafunda and have a good laugh over lunch or comfortably share a beer after work without tension. This I only saw at the Red Pepper.
When you mention that there are many former Red Pepper staff celebrating the current situation, I wonder if you are objective enough to also look at former staff like me and many others who were even present in court yesterday to support their former employer. These hundreds of workers now are worried about their future and that of their dependants as their work place remains closed.
Any organization will have employees who will not be happy with the way things are run. Particularly, the Red Pepper is an SME. It was started by simple young boys. So as a staff, you had to work hard, to account for your time and to get your job done to be able to earn. This kind of strictness will not be found in government parastatals or companies whose directors are very rich. You will also agree with me that sometimes it is normal to have employees who will clash and leave on a negative note amidst such tough terms. And that’s ok. There are also staff who will indeed work hard, achieve and get the blessings of the boss to move on to other things probably for career advancement or personal interests. I am glad that I and many other former Red Pepper staff belong to the latter. Of course there has to be a group that belongs to the former. And we still co-exist like civilized people.
Today, the Red Pepper still employs hundreds of staff directly and many others indirectly. And for these, their livelihoods are currently affected and they probably are missing out on their day to day routine of dealing in tabloid journalism. It is selfish of you to think that these don’t deserve to be thought about because you expected them to ‘cuddle you’ when you had scandal. Sorry, it shall not happen. And by the way, your concerns are understandable and I don’t expect you to cuddle them as well. To each, his own.
I am sure many upcoming artists got a lot of coverage from the Red Pepper and that is how they came to be known. The Red Pepper also has very affordable advertising rates for small businesses and has given every businessman a chance to afford an advert in the daily newspaper. We both know that before the Red Pepper, it was hardly possible for small businesses to afford an advert in the media. Thanks to them and many other new players today, we can all afford to advertise now.
I saw your claims about the Red Pepper extorting money from people. Well, as far as I recall, the Directors themselves at some point run adverts in the Red Pepper warning people of characters who were extorting money in the name of their company. In fact, they worked with police and made arrests of some staff and outsiders who used the name of the Red Pepper to extort monies. Any company may have wrong elements. How they deal with them is what is important. I write it with authority that it has never been the policy of the Red Pepper to extort money from people to cover up their scandals. At least not while I was staff. More so, I read your claims and I found them wanting. You claim your friends told you the Red Pepper reporters extorted millions from them. What did they do about it? Especially since the Red Pepper run a campaign informing the public to report to them on a given hotline in case such ever happened. I don’t like to believe in hearsay. Just like you go ahead to claim that your fiancée was blackmailed by the Red Pepper just because one of the guys there tried to date you and you rejected him. Assuming it was true, what’s wrong with an adult asking another out?
The Red Pepper has nurtured many of us and we will stand with them at this time. The Association of online Journalists the other day released a statement demanding for the release of the Red Pepper directors and editors. Many people in this association are actually former staff who are now independent and working for their own companies. The Human Rights network as well has come out against the manner in which they were detained and treated. So be assured, there are many of us routing for them and we are sure they will bounce back stronger and bigger.
The people you pray that they rot in jail simply suffered what is a work hazard. We chose different jobs and each has its dangers. Tabloid journalism will always expose the writers to hatred and jail. I am sure they will come out probably better. We pray for them. It’s trying to be in jail. As someone who has been in the media, its strange that your prayer is such!
The writer Innocent Nahabwe is a former employee of Pepper Publications