Kampala, 2nd/July/2012; the Ugandan government is set to re-introduce the widely criticized Press and Journalist amendment bill 2010 which seeks to erode away media freedom in Uganda.
The Director of Information and National guidance at the Office of the Prime Minister, Simon Mayende revealed this during a meeting with Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) which took place last week.
“We are in advanced stages of consulting with the major stakeholders over the Press and Journalist Amendment Bill 2010. We are beginning with a media consultative workshop due on August 05 2012. It is for government ministries, departments and agencies focusing on public relations officers, communication officers and information officers. This process will help us come up with a proper document to send to cabinet and later table in parliament.” Mayende revealed.
He said that the media which the primary beneficiary of this draft bill would be consulted at a later stage, adding that the district information officers were not invited to this consultative meeting due to lack of funds.
The proposed changes have been criticized by the local journalism fraternity, questioning the motive behind it and predicted that, if passed, the law would make it hard for journalists to operate freely.
In addition, various groups of professional journalists across Africa and International human rights bodies have criticised Uganda’s draft press law, saying it would make it even harder to practice independent journalism.
They argue that the proposals would enable manipulation of licensing and registration since it entrusts the media management and control into the hands of minister’s appointees who are the majority on the council. The minister would appoint the chairman and secretary of the council in addition to six of the 12 members.
Critics have argued that the bill would increase state control over media houses through setting up regulatory mechanisms which are aimed at muzzling the media. Some provisions seek to reduce the participation of professionals in the control and discipline of journalists and puts such a role in the hands political appointees.
The Bill provides for a person to prove that he/she has technical capacity before he/she is licensed to run a newspaper such a move is intended to limit the number of new entrants in the print industry and violates the freedom of speech and press as set out under article 29(1)(a) and (b) of the Uganda constitution and article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Under the bill, a newspaper could also lose its licence if it published material that the Media Council deems harmful to national security, stability, unity, the relationship with friendly countries or material that amounts to “economic sabotage”.
HRNJ-Uganda believes that this tendency of criminalizing critical reporting on such public issues is directly a veiled attack on freedom of expression. So, the government should work to professionalize the media rather controlling it. And if passed in it is current draft form, the media is headed for tougher times ahead.