Remarks by By Margaret Sekaggya Executive Director Human Rights Centre Uganda at Launch of the HRNJ-U Press Freedom Index Report 2013.

Journalists and the media continue to remain one of the most targeted groups of defenders all over the globe, and not just in Uganda. This report however elaborates in detail on the kinds of violations that journalists in Uganda faced in 2013, the persons responsible for these violations, the areas of specific target,and the lacuna’s that exist within the Laws and operations of Uganda as a whole that have made journalists even more vulnerable  to threats that continue to evolve.

The report highlights a worrying trend by revealing the biggest perpetrator as police and further still that the violations by police have increased in number from 2012.It also includes other state actors such as the judiciary, Resident District Commissioners who are meant to safeguard the rights of all people including those of journalists who are the very same people that violate these rights. Committing the violations against journalists is not the only renunciation of their duty to protect the media freedoms, the failure to punish those that do so is equally as dire. The report notes that even state actors including the general public, media house owners and private companies do violate the rights of journalists.

It is important for Police and to clear the image that continues to be ruined by a few errant policemen, and this is where the internal mechanism of the Professional Standard Unit must actually perform its role, by imposing very serious sanctions on these officers that man handle journalists, destroy their property and commit all sorts of assault against them. The Courts must also be able to adjudicate on matters concerning violations against journalists and ensure that the non state actors and other perpetrators are held responsible.

The role of Parliament in ensuring press freedoms is key. The law can either be used to legitimize press freedoms or to curtail them. The report highlights some Legislation that has negatively affected media freedoms and the rights of journalists including the Public Order Management Act 2013,Uganda Communications Act 2006, among many that have given violators of these rights the lee way to do so, preventing  journalists from accessing news, or discussing important issues.

This has led to repercussions including self censorship inadvertently violating the public’s rights to access information.

Uganda should not forget its legal obligations under the international human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil Political Rights in Article 19, but also Article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. This report highlights the link between eroded respects of the rule of law, which makes it hard to hold perpetrators accountable.

The most recent closure of the Monitor, and red pepper news papers that has been termed the media siege shows a very limited understanding of the positive role that the media has in the development of society and the country at large. This report actually highlights this as one of the possible attributes to the increase in press violations.

In my reading of this report I have noted some important recommendations that will contribute to the realization of media freedoms.

 

  • It is important that the State to understand and appreciate the role of the media as a tool for development, democracy and social transformation instead of an enemy.
  • Violators of the rights of the journalists must be punished in order to deter any violations.
  • Parliament should refrain from enacting any laws that curtail media freedoms.
  • Government should respect its international human rights obligations and the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda that caters for the freedom of expression. Any derogation to the rights of journalists and the media to express themselves must be under law.

 

The State as the main duty bearer has a major role in safe guarding the rights of the media, however in order human rights defenders should also play a major role in sensitizing the authorities, policy makers and the general public on human rights issues including on the role and importance of the media in a democratic state. It is important that this is understood and appreciated by all Stakeholders as legitimate and valuable.

 

I hereby launch this report and urge all stakeholders to take heed of their roles regarding the promotion of media freedoms.

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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