Uganda: National Public Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Information


Media practitioners in Uganda on Sept.18 held a National Public Dialogue on Freedom of Expression and Information that was organised by The Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda where Pansy Tlakula, the AU Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Opinion and Information, was the main speaker. She spoke to The Independent's Julius Odeke.

What is the main aim of your trip to Kampala?  

I came here on invitation on the Human Rights Network for Journalist- Uganda, to specifically popularise and to educate the media practitioners and the government on issues concerning the freedom of expression and to build the mutual understanding between the media and government. This is to tell government that people need to enjoy their right to freedom of expression. There is no one who has a right to deny the other person their freedom to expression.

Given the liberalization of media in Uganda, we now have over 250 local FM radio station and 45 TV stations and a few newspapers. Most of these radio and TV stations are owned by politicians at times by political parties. Should political parties or politicians own media organisations? 

It depends. These are two different countries. In South Africa, politicians were barred from owning media platforms especially radio and TV stations. This came about because of how politicians abused the rights of using media in South Africa. But it's quite difficult because some upcoming politicians before joining the political arena owned those media, so it is quite challenging to stop them the moment they join politics. It also needs government to look at that critically so as to ensure that there is no conflict of interests.  

Then who should own the media if that is the case? 

In South Africa, the businesspersons are the ones who own it. When I talk of the media, I am talking about the broadcast media. And also the state owns some and we seem to be doing pretty well with that. 

Which country in Africa ranks number one on violating the rights to freedom of expression and in that where does Uganda lie?  

I have not done a scientific research on that question so I cannot know that it's such and such a country that tops. However, common knowledge tells us that and also basing on the complaints that my desk receives every now; they tell me that Ethiopia, Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, The Gambia are the worst countries in violating the media freedom of expression. On Uganda, I have not got any report because there are no reports too that have been directed to my office to handle. But what I am seeing right now it seems, Uganda too, is doing well when we compare this with other countries mentioned above.

You being a bona fide champion of human rights in your home country, South Africa. Here in Uganda, the sexual minority groups who are largely referred to as the 'gays' have not been recognised by government. Should this sexual minority group be given a media platform to express their views despite being illegal in the country?  

Oh Yes! Why do you have to deny them chance to express their feelings in the media? They are equally humans like any other ordinary citizen. It's the media who is supposed to advocate for their rights. Make the public aware of these needs so that they are equally embraced in the society. Media has the obligation to protect the rights of the gays by condemning the acts of impunity, violence, cases of discrimination do not continue in a country like Uganda.  

Now, Is Uganda ratified with the AU protocol to so that if it violates on some rights of freedom of expression it can be petitioned to African Union?  

Yes! I have just been told that Uganda is ratified. But that does not necessarily mean to say that the African Union can just summon her. What we need is that an individual or a journalists' body that is mandated to protect the rights of journalists writes to us so that we can take the necessary steps in bringing her to book.  

You may be aware of the new social media being used by citizens in journalism practice. How does your office look at this is it a good practice that we should embrace in the media? 

My advice on this new media, or citizen journalism as we call it, is that it can offer good ideas. We are dealing with the issue of bread and butter. So I do not want us to criminalise them so much, but later we shall have to look at it critically and come up with recommendations on its usage.

What is your advice to both the media practitioners in Uganda and the government as well?  

I am so much concerned about the deteriorating relationship between the governments and the media, not only in Uganda but in Africa at large and also globally. My office is working closely with the United Nations to ensure that the relationship is again rebuilt on a good platform because the media needs government and vice versa. Without the media governments cannot operate normally and likewise for the media.