Kampala, 2nd/May/2011; the safety and security of journalists in Uganda have witnessed its greatest decline to the lowest ebb says, the Press Freedom Index (PFI) report 2011.
The report released today indicates that 55 journalists were subjected to different forms of violence singling out particularly physical attacks on individual journalists to be on rise with 36 cases.
The PFI report which highlighted the plight of journalists and show cased the environment under which the media operate covers a period of six months between November 2010 and April 2011.
Although supporters of different political parties committed numerous attacks against journalists especially during February elections but the Uganda Police Force which is supposed to protect journalists leads the list of tormentors with 19 cases.
Others include, supporters of political parties with 12 cases, the Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) with 9 cases, individuals with 7 cases, media owners with 3, university students with 2, Residents District Commissioners (RDCs) with 2 and unknown attacker with 1.
The unlawful actions of UPDF and its subordinate institutions including Joint Anti Terrorism Task Force (JATT) and Chieftaincy of Military Intelligence (CMI) have increased against journalists from kidnap, detention in communication, arbitrary arrest, and confiscation of journalists’ tools of trade to erasing photos or video clips.
The period under review had 36 cases of physical attack on journalists out of 55 cases recorded between 1st November 2011 and 26th April 2011. The other nature of cases committed against journalists in Uganda namely; kidnap and detained incommunicado 1, direct threats 7, arbitrary arrest and detention 5, journalists sacked under duress 3, false charges 1, and 1 camera was destroyed.
“We are saddened that no attacker has ever been brought to justice. Even the few, who were arrested, were released on orders of either Resident District Commissioners or District Internal Security Officers (DISO) like in Aleptong district. The physical attack figure is worrying because it’s the highest to be documented in six months” said HRNJ-Uganda Programmes Coordinator Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala
Attacks on free speech and access to media platforms;
A number of radio stations blocked the opposition candidates from accessing the platform on order of proprietors or RDCs. This was witnessed in Bunyoro Kitara region where the Inter party cooperation (IPC) candidate Dr. Kiiza Besigye was denied access even when he had paid for the space. The five privately-owned radio stations in the Bunyoro-Kitara region all blocked Dr. Besigye from appearing on them. He was scheduled to appear on Bunyoro Broadcasting Service one evening but its owner, Mr. Ernest Kiiza, is said to have ordered for the cancellation of the programme.
He was also turned away from different radio stations, namely; Radio Kitara, owned by President Museveni’s pilot Brig. Ali Kiiza, Spice FM owned by PPDA Executive Director Edgar Agaba and Kings Radio owned by the Information Minister Kabakumba Masiko.
In Hoima, Dr Besigye was scheduled to appear on Radio Hoima one evening but an apparent visit by Hoima RDC Martha Asimwe to the station prompted its owner Canaan Kyanku to reject Besigye and his team.
In Kampala, private owned radios like Dembe FM owned by businessman Patrick Bitature saw its management turn away advertising business from FDC/IPC. Some other private and public media houses including television and radio stations were paid to advertise opposition political parties’ manifestos but refused to air them and never returned the money.
Through the election period, the Uganda Broadcasting Council used its powers to influence broadcasters on what content to broadcast, for example towards elections in April 2010, the BC ordered privately-owned radio Voice of Lango to suspend two presenters for hosting the opposition group Uganda People's Congress (UPC) leader Dr. Olara Otunnu.
Similarly, on 17th December 2010, the BC instructed Voice of Kigezi to dismiss a radio presenter; Ms. Prosy Nyeteitera for participating in what it called partisan politics. In a letter to the management of the radio station, the BC blamed the presenter for airing views that support the opposition. Such threats and suspensions resulted in self censorship by many reporters who had to choose between reporting and losing their jobs. The end result has been reporting only what is acceptable by the state.
On 31st December, 2010, the BC blocked CBS radio -a Buganda Kingdom owned radio and other radio stations from broadcasting live an annual conference (Ttabamiruka) organized by Kingdom to address Buganda issues. The BC equated the live broadcast to the public debates which were banned by the same body following riots in Buganda in 2009. The effect of such curtailing of broadcasts is to ensure no public debate and sharing of information is carried out and this negatively affects freedom of speech and association in Uganda.
On 16th February 2011, the BC ordered telecommunication service providers to block citizen election monitoring SMS services, claiming that such services were likely to promote hatred and create discomfort among the public. The BC met with telecommunication service providers including Airtel, Orange and WARID and ordered them to stop relaying information to data centers owned by DemGroup -an election observer organization and the opposition FDC/IPC tally centre.
In the same communication, the EC ordered all internet service providers not allow relaying of such information to the tally centers set up by CSOs and Opposition groups. This did not only curtail the enjoyment of freedom of speech but also limited participation of independent observers in the electoral process.
“We are concerned that the BC has assumed powers way beyond its legal mandate and has continued to violate and undermine media freedom and freedom of speech in Uganda. The BC has removed itself from being a neutral body charged with regulating the industry to being a body acting to promote particular party interests” said Ssebaggala
He said the current media freedom and freedom of expression situations require the intervention of international community and United Nations whose voices can be heard and understood by the Ugandan government
Media self censorship
The actions of the BC and other government agencies resulted into self censorship of the media; the self censorship mainly was through internal editorial policies and employment policies. Whereas some media houses especially radios could not allow broadcasts considered to be promoting ideas of the opposition in form of news, some media houses refused to air adverts and any other issues relating to the opposition.
Cases in this line can be seen in Nakaseke where a community radio closed out the opposition IPC/FDC even after the IPC had paid and received a receipt for the airtime. Similarly on the Mid Western Uganda, the IPC flag bearer was denied access to several other radios including Bunyoro Broadcasting Services, King’s Broadcasting Services, Kitara FM, Spice FM, Radio Hoima and Liberty Broadcasting Services even when some of these radios had received payment for the programmes.
Self censorship also focused on suspending programmes or presenters considered critical of government, the presenters and journalists suspended include; James Kasirivu a presenter at Mbarara based Endigito Radio, suspension of 9 reporters from Freedom FM in Kabale, sacking of Top Radio Masaka journalist one Ssekimpi on grounds of challenging the Returning Officer, suspension of journalists from covering political rallies on Tropix FM in Masaka, among others. The suspensions and dismissals had an effect of threatening journalists, presenters and other media practitioners from publishing issues critical of government or covering the opposition.
Censorship of social media
Social media space has increasingly become narrow in Uganda. The social media is often viewed by the state as a platform through which the opposition and those against the government channel their views to the public.
The government’s actions towards the social media clearly indicate that such platforms are to mobilize the people rebel as opposed to sharing information and social networking. As a result there has been increased clampdown of the social media space including both the informal and formal social media.
During and after elections, the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) has been under pressure from security apparatus to block social media platforms. Following the Walk-to-Work protests, the UCC moved fast to ban social networks specifically Facebook and Twitter. According to the April 14th letter obtained by HRNJ-Uganda, the UCC directed the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to shut down Facebook and twitter platforms for 24 hours.
The letter signed by Mr. Quinto Ojok, the Acting Executive Director, addressed to major providers of internet, namely; Broad Band Company, Foris Telecom Company and Infocom Limited, among others, stated that UCC was requested by security agencies to minimize the use of such platforms.
The period has also seen an increased of surveillance on media work by the Uganda security apparatus. Security organs have infiltrated into news rooms where some journalists have been recruited armed and have been put on the payroll of security agencies to spy on fellow journalists and operations of newsrooms.
On 14th/April/2011, the Uganda Police Force boss and his juniors called different news rooms pleading not to air police brutal attacks on the protestors. A news manager from one of media houses who spoke on condition anonymity told HRNJ-Uganda that these directives were ignored because they were not legally binding and media houses went ahead to relay live pictures whose actions did not please some journalists in the news room. Spy journalists called back the police about noncompliance.
Information obtained by HRNJ-Uganda indicated that the police leadership was puzzled about the media refusal and called State house for intervention.
Sources told HRNJ-Uganda that the state house team directed the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) to stop media houses from live coverage of the ‘Walk-to-Work’ protests. The directives were also reported in the daily monitor of April 20th.
The government of Uganda and all its agencies should put in place measures to ensure protection of rights and freedoms guaranteed under the constitution.
Specifically we recommend that;
i. Parliament repeals all laws inconsistent with media freedom and the practice of media freedom including sections in Anti Terrorism Act, the Interception of Communication Act, repeal of criminal libel, NGO Act and the regulations as well as repealing of promotion of sectarianism, repeal S. 33, 34, 35, 36, 38, 39, 40, 42, 43 and 44 of the Penal Code that deal with importation of publications and false news and all other sections of the PCA that undermine media freedom.
ii. Parliament amends and provides for better media space and freedom of expression including amending the Press and Journalist Act to provide for clarity on the media code of conduct, to provide for media practitioners including non journalists, provide for protection of individual journalists from exploitative media house owners and the state.
iii. Parliament drop all proposed bills undermining media freedom including the Press and Journalist amendment Bill, the Anti Homosexuality Bill, Public Order Management Bill among others.
iv. The Directorate of Public Prosecution (DPP) drops all sedition charges and similar charges against individuals (including journalists) since the Constitutional Court ruled this offence and other offences unconstitutional. Similarly the UPF should stop forthwith from charging people from offences that were ruled out to be unconstitutional.
v. The UPF, DPP and Courts of law should work expeditiously to ensure journalists facing trial are heard and fair decisions reached without undue delay. Similarly cases and complaints against government officials and individuals who violate journalists’ rights should be heard expeditiously to ensure justice.
vi. The BC and the UCC should work for the promotion of media freedom in what is acceptable in a free and democratic government by;
a. Stopping forthwith intimidating media owners and practitioners into blackmailing them and canceling their licenses whenever they broadcast what the BC or the UCC doesn’t agree with.
b. Stopping forthwith arbitrary punishment of media houses and practitioners which/who are considered to act outside their realm. The BC and UCC should ensure that whenever a practitioner has acted in contravention to the set standards, such a practitioner should be punished in accordance with the law established, given a chance to be heard and therefore have a fair trial
c. Ensure that whenever an action is to be taken, the BC and the UCC have powers to do so, granted to it by the laws in Uganda.
vii. The Government of Uganda should disband military and paramilitary groups set for the purpose of monitoring media freedom who in many cases have violated media freedoms and have undermined freedom of speech. Such work should be left to the UPF who should act professional and transparent in their work with media practitioners.
Recommendations to other stakeholders
viii. All media practitioners in Uganda including media owners, journalists, reporters, DJs, presenters, among others should commit their efforts to protection and defence of media freedom. Media practitioners should form a sharing forum through which they can report cases of threats and attacks and a mechanism to respond to the appropriately.
ix. Media owners and employers should incorporate protection of journalists and other practitioners in their day-to-day work. Specifically, set aside resources for legal defence for their employees, health schemes and rescue for employees under threat.
x. CSOs should increase training for media practitioners specifically in personal safety and security and rights. All of these will help media practitioners protect themselves.
xi. CSOs and the media should increase community awareness on the role of the media, human rights and respect for rule of law in Uganda so as to curb hooliganism, mob justice and targeted attacks on media practitioner.
For more the full report follow this link: www.hrnjuganda.org/press_index_report_April_2011.pdf