Human Rights Network for Journalist-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) under the project ‘Bolstering professional capacities to deter safety and security threats and risks’, focuses on enhancing the professional capacities of journalists in Uganda with the view of strengthening their safety and security. Owing to that, HRNJ-Uganda held a media strategic planning meeting on 12th December 2017 at Imperial Royale Hotel in Kampala.
The meeting was comprised of different stake holder representatives ranging from media practitioners(media managers, editors and reporters), Uganda Communication Commission, Uganda Media Council, National Association of Broadcasters the civil society organisations (Human Rights Network Uganda, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, Lapsnet, Hub for Investigative Media, Centre for Public Interest Litigation, Chapter Four Uganda ) and foreign media agencies. At the end of the meeting, the members present agreed to issue a joint statement with major highlights on the state of the media in the country as indicated below:
JOINT PRESS STATEMENT FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
We, the members of the media fraternity and civil society, gather today December 12th, 2017 at Imperial Royale Hotel, Kampala to express our solidarity and collective action about the state of press freedom in Uganda.
Our history as a country has been turbulent and the media has suffered the most under State control and interference. We wish to affirm that the current patterns in the country spell a great degree of deterioration for media freedoms to unprecedented levels.
The media plays a great role in governance and development and any action that curtails it from performing this function is in contravention of the national, regional and international principles.
In Uganda press freedom is guaranteed under Article 29, and events in the country today spell a danger of eroding enjoyment of this fundamental right and against the spirit of the Constitution.
We wish to be categorical particularly about the following developments;
It is vital that journalistic standards and ethics are upheld and we the press corps should hold each other to account when we fall short of best practice, at the same time we stand in solidarity with each other when we are attacked.
Red Pepper journalists have been detained for over three weeks on the grounds that their freedom would endanger national security having been accused of disturbing the peace of President Museveni, Gen. Salim Saleh and security minister Lt. Gen. Henry Tumukunde.
Whether we like or agree with the content the Red Pepper publishes, this attack on press freedom undermines the freedom of all journalists to report freely on the facts.
The government of Uganda must stop using arrests and prosecutions as a means to intimidate journalists engaged in lawful and legitimate work.
Licensing & Accreditation
By withholding broadcast licenses and media accreditation for spurious reasons, the State authorities are deliberately attempting to silence journalists and the media.
Using bureaucratic means to pressure dissenting voices must end.
The widespread use of provisional licenses is a means to force broadcasters not to publish news viewed as critical of the government or face shutdown by the State.
The use of provisional broadcasting licenses must cease. Once a broadcaster has paid for a license they must be treated as being a valid license holder.
In the event of a delay or denial of a license or accreditation, the authority must issue a written explanation for the delay or denial.
Rather than issuing written guidance to media, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is using phone calls as a way to evade evidence and accountability.
All instructions and guidance from the UCC made be made in writing or will not be treated by the media as a legitimate communication.
The UCC has a responsibility to clearly articulate a definition of what constitutes ‘minimum broadcasting standards’ a term so used against media houses in the country.
In coming to a definition, UCC should bear in mind that the courts have decided that there is no offence of publishing false news, therefore, the UCC cannot include publishing false news as part of the definition.
Media houses – particularly outside of Kampala – have been pressured not to host dissenting voices. Every media house must be free to interview any public figure whatever their political stance, without reprisals.
The Government of Uganda should uphold its commitments under the national, regional and international human rights instruments that guarantee press freedoms
The Government should immediately undertake efforts to re-open the Red Pepper and also release its Directors and Editors or face collective action by the media and human rights community in the country.
Government is reminded that continued persecution and oppression of journalists is a violation of press freedom.
The government should amend laws that continue to criminalize the work of journalists.
Government is reminded that human rights are entitlements and not given by the State and so must be upheld.
UCC must be seen to work for the promotion and growth of the media rather than control and curtail its freedoms.
The struggle to defend and promote media freedom should spread across to the Civil society as the media serves the public.
Centre for Public Interest Litigation
Uganda Parliamentary Press Association
Uganda Radio Network