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Day May 6, 2011

MEDIA FREEDOM IN UGANDA: MYTH OR REALITY?


This week the world celebrated the World Press Freedom day, a time where journalists the world over reflect on the progress made on issues concerning freedom of the press and the media in general. In Uganda, the day has come at such a critical time when the local press is under immense pressure from the government over what it calls biased reporting following the “walk to work” demonstrations.

Press freedom in Uganda has been ranked as partly free by the Freedom House survey 2010 , but with the recent trends, it is steadily losing the gains that it has gradually acquired over time. The right to freedom of expression is guaranteed under Article 29 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda. However, it should be noted that the peculiar nature of this right is that, it is both individual and institutional. It applies to not only a single person’s right to publish ideas, but also the right of the bigger public to know. A free press therefore is such a critical pillar in any democratic society.

On April 14 2011, a letter signed by Mr. Quinto Ojok, the acting Executive Director of Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) imposed a one day ban on social networking media sites. This came on the heels of a ban on live coverage of political demonstrations by the same Commission to all television stations, a move that has inadvertently resulted into self censorship of the media. It is imperative to note that citizens cannot take part in public decision-making if they do not have free access to information and ideas and are not able to express their views freely. Therefore, whereas UCC is legally mandated to “supervise media houses”, this mandate should be executed in a free and just manner, and not to be seen as a prohibitive arm of the state to free expression.

It should also be noted that any government’s commitment to media freedom is usually tested at such times where they consider the media offensive. However in Uganda today, it is becoming increasingly apparent that any articulation of popular interests and critical analysis or reporting by the media is seen to be in support of the opposition. It is not surprising therefore that there have been reports of journalists being targeted during the coverage of the recent demonstrations in Kampala with many of them being wounded by security agencies.

As Uganda marks World Press Freedom Day, we should reflect on the vital role played by a free press onto good governance and democratization in general. We should strive to ensure that we work towards an independent press which promotes accountability. This however requires a free, self governing and responsible press.

George Musisi

Legal Assistant

Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI)

Email: fhri@spacenet.co.ug

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