Journalists have been urged not to accept to be licensed by the Media Council because it is illegitimate and pushing for unclear agendas, saying that all such acts are on the wrong side of history.
“Don’t surrender your rights to a body which is poorly constituted and therefore illegitimate. I invite you to stand up and say no to this process. The Media Council is on the wrong side of history,” Robert Ssempala the National Coordinator, Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda said while opening a two day training for journalists from Eastern Uganda region on the criminal justice system at Travel Hotel in Jinja district.
Ssempala noted that the Media Council is a creation of the Press and Journalists Act 2005 which is a bad law and being challenged in court by Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda), East Africa Media Institute (EAMI) and the Center for Public Interest Litigation (CEPIL), he therefore called on journalists to abstain from any activity that emanates from this law.
He particularly singled out the fact that the Council is not regularly constituted.
“The Media Council is supposed to have 12 members, of which the journalists are the least represented. All of them are appointed by the minister of information. Currently the Council has only eight members of which two are ghosts because they represent a non-existent organ called the National Institute of Journalists in Uganda (NIJU). The fact that these two represent a ghost organization, this further casts in doubt the legality and legitimacy of the Council which has embarked on registering and consequent conscription of journalists,” Ssempala told the journalists.
In the past one month, the Media Council has been moving around the country telling journalists to register for licenses failure of which they will not be allowed to practice. In some of these meetings, HRNJ-Uganda learnt that police officers have attended and threatened to arrest journalists who are not licensed for “disobeying lawful orders”.
Several international courts have ruled against licensing of journalists.
“This whole process of registering journalists under the currently prevailing circumstances is very suspicious, it’s intended to curtail the free flow of information and ideas by irregularly having journalists register despite the attendant law being challenged in the courts of law. Journalists should be registered by their parent media houses. All forms of gagging the media should be resisted.” said Julius Esegu, the HRNJ-Uganda Executive Board Chairperson.
Esegu urged journalists from the various regions in the country to resist this process by raising legitimate concerns characterizing the exercise. “Journalists must play a central role in ending the oppression, violence and harassment meted against media practitioners in Uganda.”
Diana Nandudu, the legal officer at HRNJ-Uganda and coordinator of the training said it is aimed at equipping journalists with knowledge on the criminal justice and the justice, law and order sector in the country. She said the training is supported by the Finish Embassy in Nairobi. The training offers journalists opportunity to interface with police, the judiciary and Uganda Human Rights Commission.
Talking to journalists, the Police Spokesperson Kiira Region, Samson Lubega, listed five areas which he claims are sources of confrontation between journalists and the police. He cited ignorance of the work of journalists by police officers in the field, journalists taking photos of police officers in the wrong which is later used by their superiors to reprimand them, failure by journalists to respect crime scenes and inaccurate reporting. He noted that journalists don’t differentiate between a confession, admission and denial when they are reporting. He said officers who mistreat journalists do it as individuals and are liable for their crimes. He told journalists that those implicated are followed up and dealt with, although he fell short of giving the participants names or figures of those who have reportedly faced disciplinary action within the police mechanisms.
The Uganda Human Rights Commission Officer in charge of Jinja region, Nakhumistsa Sarah, enumerated to journalists the history, mandate and how the Commission handles human rights complaints. She appealed to journalists to work with the Commission by sharing information regarding rights violations, and also help in sensitizing the people in Uganda about their rights.
James Nkuubi from Human Rights Network-Uganda emphasized the need for journalists to understand the justice systems and the specific laws governing the media.
The training brought together journalists from the Eastern region districts of Jinja, Mayuge, Kamuli, Iganga, Mbale and Soroti among others.