Wednesday, December 15, 2010

HRNJ-Uganda Ten-Month Case Report: More than 50 journalists exposed to violence between January and October 2010.

Kampala, 14th/12/2010; Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has launched a campaign to mitigate the deteriorating security of journalists in the lead up to, during and after February 2010 general elections.

The campaign offers complaint handling mechanism (a toll free helpline 0800144155 for victim journalists), established press freedom monitors and standby lawyers based in all regions, will hold meetings with different stakeholders including security agencies, political parties and government officials among others.

The campaign comes at a time when a “Ten-Month Case Report” released by HRNJ-Uganda indicated that more than 50 journalists were subjected to different forms of violence.

The report reveals that radio workers are at a higher risk compared to their counterparts in print, with 17 cases followed by reporters. Others were photojournalists who had 15 cases, television workers with 4 cases and one journalist working for online publication. “The number of victims this year is very outrageous. It is doubling the cases recorded in 2009 and it’s a worrying trend for the media in Uganda”. HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala said.

The period under review has witnessed threats reaching their peak with the murder, by mob violence of two journalists RIP Paul Kiggundu and Dickson Ssentongo, both working for Christian radio stations namely; Radio Top and Radio Prime respectively.

This occurred at a time when the media was just recovering from the unprecedented crackdown by state in 2009 following widespread riots, ending in the closure of five radio stations. All these radios are now back on air but to a new order where media has been compelled by fear of antagonizing the State to institute a high level of self censorship that has to a large measure impacted on quality of content and devalued the essence of the media as a public sphere.

Such an atmosphere has created the worst environment for the media in the history of Uganda. Cases witnessed in the period under review ranged from; attacks and threats with 14 cases, illegal arrest and detention with 8, torture/inhuman treatment with 7, judicial sanctions with 7, police harassment with 5, and state interference with 1.

The report noted State sanctions which have changed from direct intervention to subtle actions and threats from agents of the State, particularly the regulatory Broadcasting Council, and in some cases, by Resident District Commissioners, who have turned themselves into unappointed media monitors.

The combination of threats, overt and covert actions made journalism a less enviable profession and a risky one too. As if this is not enough, the State maintained its resolve to put more controls on the media through a Bill now before Parliament to amend the media laws and introduce more strict measures and to provide for more offences against journalists and media.

The report ranked police with the highest number of cases committed against journalists with 16 cases. This is the third time that police is ranked in the same position by subsequent reports.

The public which is supposed to be the source of protection of the media ranked second with 13 cases committed against journalists. Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) with 4 cases, paramilitary groups with 3 cases, state with 2 cases, Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF) with 2 cases, regulators with 1 and others with 6 cases.

“These developments must be looked at within the broader context of the forthcoming general elections. A media system characterized by fear of the State, job loss, personal security and harassment by civilians cannot provide the space for critical examination of issues that are at the heart of the voters during this electoral period” veteran journalist John Baptist Wasswa said.

The report has however noted major victories in Courts with the decriminalization of the offence of sedition. The ruling deprived the State of one of the most notorious instruments it used against media and consolidated the confidence of media in the Courts.

Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda has observed that the state of media freedom and practice in Uganda is of continuing and in some cases escalating threats to media personnel; increased fear by media owners, managers and practitioners especially in the electronic media, following the post-September riots crackdown. This fear has permeated all sections of the media leading to a dumping down of important programs that touch on issues of governance and democracy. Other threats that have characterized this year are State interference in media matters, judicial sanctions, harassment by the Police in many parts of the country; the sophistication of police interventions in media work, following the creation of specialized desks on Media Offences. This desk has since its creation not focused on how to enable public enjoyment of media freedoms but on imagining potential offences the media might commit.

Other concerns over the year ending are increased attacks on individual journalists, threats of a new regime of laws under the proposed amendment to the Press and Journalists Statute of 1995, and hostile propaganda against the media by senior people in government and security organizations.

We therefore recommend that as follow;
(a) That media proprietors should facilitate their employees which will safe guard them from avoidable attacks.
(b) The government should stay the proposed Press and Journalists Amendment Bill because it has potential to make media difficult during this electoral period.
(c) Court should dismiss sedition charges against journalists in respect to the court judgment
(d) All media activists led by human rights organizations should draft a declaration for respect for freedom of the media and expression. The candidates, both at presidential and other levels should be called upon to sign up in support of this declaration.
(e) Media organizations should start a joint and massive campaign to sensitize the public against attacks to journalists.
(f) Parliament should enact the over shelved ‘Torture’ bill which will criminalize torture and hold errant officers responsible for their crimes.
(e) Media managers and Police need to develop a working framework especially during the election period to avoid conflict.
(f) Media activists should start working on a law that will operationalise the media freedoms stipulated in the Constitution. Despite the Bill of Rights being enshrined in the Constitution, many people, including officers of government, security officers, politicians and the general public do not fully understand their operationalisation. It is incumbent on media to start the process by drafting a private bill that will seek to spell out how these freedoms should be enjoyed.

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For More Information Contact;
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda)
Kivebulaya Road Mengo-Kampala Opp. St. Marcelino Preparatory School
P.O.Box.71314 Clock Tower Kampala
Tel: +256-414-272934 /+256-414-667627
Toll Free Helpline; 0800144155
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