Ugandan media braces for tumultuous 2016 presidential election


Ugandan media expects more of this in the run up to 2016

A new report indicates that both freedoms of press and of expression in Uganda continue to remain under threat and this is likely to worsen in the run up to the 2016 general election.

The report titled ‘The Rise in Tribulations of Frontline Journalism – Who will protect the Media?’ was released on Wednesday in the Ugandan capital Kampala by the Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda).

The index assesses the state of media rights and freedom in Uganda for 2014 and is based on information regarding threats and violations against freedom of expression.

Robert Sempala, the National Coordinator of HRNJ-Uganda said like in 2013, there was  124 cases of violations against journalists by both state and non-state actors in 2014, with the police and the judiciary topping the list of violators.

The report says unlike 2013 when 85 cases of Police brutality against journalists were recorded, in 2014 the cases dropped by over a half to 40.

This, the report adds, indicates that the force may be starting to understand and appreciate the important role the media plays in the governance of the country. On the judiciary, the report says an institution that is considered as the temple of justice and custodian of human rights is increasingly starting to undermine the importance of the media, freedom of expression and access to information.

The number of judicial officials blocked journalists from covering public hearings with some ordering security officers to confiscate journalistic tools of trade and destroy materials like photographs and recorders.

On the upcoming general election, the report says the political rift between President Yoweri Museveni and former Prime Minister Amama Mbabazi created a negative impact on the media in 2014, undermining freedom of the press and expression.

The report points out that media practitioners were grouped into opposing camps, exposing them to ridicule and potential backlash from groups that perceived them as sympathetic to their political rivals.

It further notes that violations against media practitioners are likely to continue and even increase as 2016 approaches, making it a critical year to watch.

Other perpetrators, the report cites individuals and non-state actors including Resident District Commissioners, the army, media house owners, Kampala Capital City Authority, private security companies and the Government of South Sudan.

HRNJ-Uganda recommends that media houses provide a conducive working environment for journalists and facilitate them in their work.   To the government, the report recommends, among others, that the parliament and the Uganda Law Reform Commission consider reforming or repealing various laws that impact negatively on freedom of expression.

The report also appeals to the general public to appreciate the role of media and the importance of freedom of expression in the cultivation of a democratic society.

Richard Mugisha from the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa said the people of Uganda should embrace the fight for a free media and freedom of expression because they are the first victims.

Lynn Najjemba from Panos Eastern Africa said media houses and journalists should ensure that they maintain the highest standards when reporting on the 2016 general elections.