Uganda needs better laws for a free press

Leader of the Opposition, Mathias Mpuuga

By Mathias Mpuuga

I join journalists both here and around the world to commemorate the World Press Freedom Day – a day set aside by the United Nations (UN) for governments to reflect on the critical role of a free press in a democracy.

The events in Uganda before and after last year’s general elections don’t show that the Ugandan government takes seriously the 3rd, May 1993 Windhoek Declaration.

Journalists continue to be brutalized by the security agencies as the executive on the other hand uses statutory agencies to gag free speech.

 This year’s theme “Journalism under digital siege” should open our minds to how far the state can go in using the advancement in technology to impact on freedom of expression, safety of journalists, access to information and privacy.

Efforts by individual journalists, sometimes supported by Civil Society Organisations, to fight for their space have in most cases been frustrated by various state actors. Many times, the government has used the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) which imposes inexcusable suspensions of media houses, journalists and talk shows which undermine the quality of journalism in Uganda and create an environment of fear.

Such circumstances accentuate administrative gaps, deeply abuse natural justice and undermine sector growth for the Commission has on many occasions failed to dispense justice in a free, fair and democratic manner.

The government is still reluctant to constitute the Uganda Communications Tribunal which would have handled complaints relating to the decisions of UCC as provided under Section 60 and 64 of the Uganda Communications Commission Act. 

The leadership of the Opposition platform in Parliament is working on a Private Member’s Bill to cause for an amendment of the UCC Act and all relevant media laws that are strangling media freedom. 

I invite state and non-state actors to interest themselves in the space of free media.

The author is the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament

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