Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-U) has compiled a report underscoring the numerous cases of violations Uganda Police Force has committed against journalists.
Akin to 2013, HRNJ-U recorded 124 cases of violations against journalists in 2014 by both State and non-state actors including the Uganda Police, the UPDF, the Judiciary, local government entities, individuals and employers of media practitioners.
According to the report, Uganda Police, just like in previous years scored the highest number of cases of violations and abuses reported.
“It is however important to note that there was a drastic reduction of attacks by the police in 2014 to 40 cases from 85 in 2013. This clearly indicates that the force may be starting to understand the noble importance the media plays in the governance of a country.”
The judiciary on the other hand, also used to block journalists from covering public hearings with some ordering security officers to confiscate journalistic tools of trade and destroy materials.
“In extreme scenarios, journalists were detained for covering court proceedings. In a positive turn of events, Higher Courts have restored the rule of law by overturning some of the irrational decisions, which unjustifiably barred journalists from covering open court sessions.”
The report also cites the political conflict (manifest or perceived) between President Museveni and the then Prime Minister, Amama Mbabazi that raged on for the wider part of 2014 which created a negative impact on the media fraternity undermining freedom of express and media rights.
“The conflict pitted the media, allegedly into different camps, a scenario that depicted some members of the media as partisan and exposing them to ridicule and potential backlash from groups that perceived them as enemy camps.”
The rights body says a crackdown on the media therefore has continued to negate the progress towards public accountability, rule of law, combating of corruption, democracy and enjoyment of human rights.
“The trend of violations against media practitioners, it is feared, may continue unabated and arguably go higher considering the fact that Uganda is just months away from holding the general Presidential and Parliamentary elections in 2016. The past experience has shown that during such campaigns, media houses especially those owned by politicians or business men leaning to the ruling political party dictate who is to be given coverage and who cannot be hosted on their radios or televisions.”
The rights body said that as such, 2016 remains a critical year to watch as election years doom or uphold the profession.
Inhibitive Regulations on Compulsory Accreditation of media
In February 2014, the then Minister of Information and National Guidance issued a Statutory Instrument specifying fees journalists must pay to practice their profession.
A person practicing journalism is required to pay Uganda Shillings 285,000 for enrollment and registration and Uganda Shillings 100,000 annually for renewal of a practicing certificate.
Editors, according to the Statutory Instrument are required to pay Uganda Shillings 295,000 for registration and enrollment.
A journalist who practices journalism without a practicing certificate is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding Uganda Shillings 300,000 or imprisonment of three months.
HRNJ-U says such measures violate the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Declarations of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa.
“The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has ruled that compulsory accreditation of journalists violates Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of which Uganda is signatory.”
Draconian directives for free broadcast air time
In March 2014, the Ministry of Information and National Guidance issued a ten point directive to all broadcasters in the country demanding free airtime for government programmes.
The directives titled: “Guidelines on the provision of free broadcast air-time to publicize government programs” requires all radio and television stations in the country to provide government officials with a one hour live broadcast once a week during prime time.
The aforementioned directives, according to the report, are indicative of a shrinking space of media freedom with the government bent to cajole media houses to programme according to the wishes of the government.
Read the full report here: http://hrnjuganda.org/reports/Press%20Freedom%20Index%20Report%202014.pdf