Govt draws media into Museveni, Besigye fight

Police officers push journalists away from FDC presidential candidate Kizza Besigye’s home recently. PHOTO by Abubaker Lubowa.

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The Cabinet pronouncement banning live broadcasts of the “defiance campaign” placed the media right at the centre of the fight between President Museveni and Dr Kizza Besigye, prompting reactions from different circles.

The ban was announced yesterday by Information minister Jim Muhwezi, in a high profile press conference that was attended by Attorney General Fredrick Ruhindi and his deputy, Mr Mwesigwa Rukutana. Police boss Gen Kale Kayihura, Uganda Communications Commission boss Godfrey Mutabazi and select media managers especially from television sector also attended the press conference. “I hope the media will defy this ridiculous and unconstitutional ban on free speech and expression,” Dr Peter Mwesige, the executive director of the African Center for Media Excellence, said.

Mr Mwesige said Dr Besigye is free to challenge the declared reelection of President Museveni and “the media have acted as a witness to this contestation and brought the fight to our living rooms. It is up to Ugandans to decide whether to embrace ‘defiance’ or accept ‘no change’”.

“The media are messengers,” Dr Mwesigye said, adding: “They are not the authors of the defiance campaign, which, by the way, is also allowed by our Constitution. At least the court is yet to rule to the contrary.”

The ban primarily targets television and radio live broadcasts, but live reporting in the digital age goes beyond that, with newspapers now also capable of maintaining live feeds on their websites.

The media ban on reporting “defiance campaign” activities, Deputy Attorney General Rukutana said at the press conference, was implied in the order Deputy Chief Justice Steven Kavuma issued restraining Dr Besigye and his Forum for Democratic Change party from engaging in the defiance campaign.

Mr Rukutana’s interpretation regarding the media elicited immediate reactions, with the American Embassy in Kampala twitting Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 19 goes: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through media.”

In situations of political volatility, the government has usually turned its guns to the media, with live reporting being the first casualty.

In 2009, three radio stations were switched off air for doing live transmissions of events during the Kayunga riots.
The stations were Buganda Kingdom’s Central Broadcasting Service, Ssuubi FM and the Catholic Church’s Radio Sapientia.

Much earlier before that, there had been an assault on live broadcasting when live public talk shows commonly known as bimeeza were banned in 2002.

REACTIONS

“(The Kavuma order) is a restraint to the named respondents in that order, i.e., Forum for Democratic Change and Kizza Besigye. Had the Attorney General intended to seek bar to publication by any other person, his office would have named that person a party. The press should not be manipulated by any office in believing that they are parties to the order by any reference. I also opine that there is nothing wrong with reporting in an acceptable form that a party to an order has defied it. That is news. It is upon the party in whose favour the restraint is made to seek contempt of court relief against the flouting party,” James Nangwala, Monitor lawyer, on whether order concerns media
“You are talking about freedom of the press; can the media go and publish pornography? Can you go and start propagating the views of al-Shabaab? Your freedom as the media is not unlimited. The State has to respond to situations as they come,” Kiryowa Kiwanuka, NRM party lawyer

“We saw this coming when the Minister (of Information) started engineering an amendment to the law in order to shield his pronouncements from Parliamentary scrutiny. What the government was actually targeting is live coverage. There is likely to be increased repression of the media and probably shutting down of media houses but the media need to stay firm,” Robert Sempala, Human Rights Network for Journalists

HRNJ-UG Admin

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is a network of human rights journalists in Uganda working towards enhancing the promotion, protection and respect of human rights through defending and building the capacities of journalists, to effectively exercise their constitutional rights and fundamental freedoms for collective campaigning through the media.

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