Media freedom of speech threatened in Uganda

July 15, 2015 OPINION/NEWS

uganda

 

By

Robert Ssewankambo

A directive issued to all broadcasters by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) poses a serious threat to freedom of expression and the media, as it attempts to restrict journalists’ ability to report freely on the upcoming Presidential, Parliamentary and local government elections in Uganda.

“As a media rights organisation, we believe that this is a bold step by the UCC solely intended to gag the media and compromise its independence ahead of the upcoming political developments in the country” Robert Ssempala of journalists’ rights organisation HRNJ-Uganda stated.

Freedom of expression and the media is a fundamental right enshrined in article 29 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, and therefore not the duty of an individual or such a body like UCC to decide how the beneficiaries of the same should enjoy it.

On July 8th, the Executive Director of UCC, Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi issued a one-page document warning all broadcasters in Uganda against what he termed as “negative and unprofessional trends such as lack of balance, sensationalism, incitement, abusive language and relying on unauthorized and unreliable sources of information.” The document does not state justification for such a warning to the media at this critical juncture when its independence is most paramount.

According to the document, the directive is based on Section 31 of the Uganda Communications Commissions Act. This particular section however, does not refer to authorised sources, or restrict the sources journalists may use.

Eng. Mutabazi should clarify to the media what he means by “negative and unprofessional trends” and “unauthorised and unreliable sources of information” which he alludes to in the document. We believe that Eng. Mutabazi is acting irregularly in trying to usurp the powers to control and direct the public and the media in particular on how to enjoy their right to free speech and expression.

Although freedom of expression is not an absolute right, any limitations on this right must be necessary, proportionate, and justifiable in a free and democratic society. This directive is unnecessary, disproportionate, and unjustifiable in a free and democratic society. In the run upto the 2016 general elections, Ugandans should be left to use the media without undue restrictions, or unnecessary interference, in order for them to receive and disseminate information which would result in them making informed decisions regarding their leaders.

Ssempala then called on the UCC to desist from becoming an obstacle to Ugandans as they aspire to access information which is a key tenet of choosing the leadership they want. Instead UCC should facilitate the free flow of information, ideas, opinions, and public debate, however extreme they may be.

“As we struggle to advocate for a free, critical and professional media, we appeal to all broadcasters to disregard the UCC’s directive as it is devoid of legal merit, its intent to stifle debate on matters of national importance and public interest. The UCC should take centre stage in promoting a free and strong media rather that masterminding inhibitions to its detriment” Ssempala added.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Robert Ssewankambo

Robert Ssewankambo is a Ugandan writer. Working currently on a freelance basis, he is a regular contributor to major newspapers in Uganda and electronic online magazines and media sources in Africa, such as the Bukedde newspaper, Hindered radio, Red Pepper, Eddobozzi newspaper and African Interest online.

For media enquiries, contact Robert at the following email address: sewankamborobert@gmail.com

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