Uganda: Government Pushes Ahead With Repressive Media Law

Regulation & Policy

The proposed media law is a monster, says Dr George Lugalambi, chair of a coalition fighting to preserve press freedom in Uganda. Publishers and journalists would have to apply annually for a licence, which could be revoked at will in the interests of "national security, stability and unity," or if coverage was deemed to be "economic sabotage."

Presiding over the system under the proposed Press and Journalist (Amendment) Bill 2010 would be a new Media Council, appointed by the Minister of Information and National Guidance. To obtain a licence, publishers would need to show "proof of existence of adequate technical facilities" and the "social, cultural and economic values of the newspaper.

Journalists would have to prove they are qualified - a degree in journalism, or in another field but accompanied by a post graduate diploma in journalism or mass communications - plus a clean criminal record.

Professor Fredrick Jjuuko, a media law expert says such provisions violate the constitution. "The constitution provides for a freedom of expression and media and the presumption is that means for everybody. The new bill is making this freedom exclusive for those with university degrees which is unfair." says Jjuuko.

Lugalambi, who is also head of the Department of Mass Communication at Makerere University, says the Ugandan media is already burdened with repressive laws such as the one that makes it a crime to publish unfavorable information about government activities and public officials.

"Criminalising these activities opens up the media to the partisan and subjective actions of people in power. For instance, we have been asking ourselves: Who defines and what constitutes prejudice to national security or injury to Uganda's relations with her neighbors or friendly countries?
"Won't any politician or government functionary with interests in a particular business decide that certain reporting and commentary about the activities of that business amount to economic sabotage?"

Instead, Lugalambi's coalition - known as Article 29 after the section of Uganda's constitution that guarantees freedom of expression - calls on the government to support self-regulatory initiatives.
Source: IPS