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Fight for media space during elections gains momentum

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Fight for media space during elections gains momentum

Journal;ist at a press conference

Editors and other bodies working to defend the rights of Journalists are in various courts of law trying to stop the government from encroaching on the rights of journalists from covering the forthcoming elections.

This week, the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-U), along with the East African Media Institute and the Centre for Public Interest Law  filed an application in the Constitutional Court seeking a temporary court injunction to restrain the Media Council of Uganda from enforcing its guidelines on accrediting journalists to cover the 2021 elections and other State events.

The petition by HRNJ-Uganda adds to others by the CEPIL, Hub for Freedom of Expression, Editors Guild of Uganda among others seeking to stay the Media Council directives.

“We are certain that continued pursuit of accreditation for journalists to cover elections will disenfranchise most of them who will not be able to register during this limited period of time, and this will certainly limit the free flow of information to the wider citizenry and hence their decisions to make informed decisions. The Media Council needs to open up this process till after elections” said HRNJ-Uganda’ Executive Director, Robert Ssempala.

It remains to be seen if the court will grant the injunction but similar efforts by journalists to prevent the restrictions have been met with mixed successes.

In 2014, HRNJ-U working with other entities ran to the Constitutional Court challenging  the constitutionality of several provisions of the Press and Journalists Act Cap. 105 some of which are being invoked by the Media Council of Uganda now to accredit local and foreign journalists covering elections. The court is yet to give it’s ruling on the matter.

On December 10, 2020, the Media Council of Uganda issued a statement requiring all journalists,  local or foreign intending to cover elections and other State events to hold a press tag issued by the Media Council and without it, no one would be allowed to cover the events.

According to the Media Council of Uganda, the registration process “will ensure the safety and security of journalists”. Other valid accreditations of Foreign correspondents, previously carried out by the Uganda Media Centre, were immediately terminated.

HRNJ-U says that the Media Council’s directive was harsh on journalists some of whom were already upcountry covering the presidential candidates, and yet it provided for just 14 days to carry out the registration.

“The timing for registration is questionable given that some journalists who presented all their credentials much earlier had not been registered. Some journalists expressed concern over the UGX200,000/= (USD.55) fees for the registration,” HRNJ-U says.

Many proprietors of media houses, Editors, and Media development organizations have expressed concerns over the timing and suspicious intentions over this process.

In their application, The Editors’ Guild and CEPIL asked for a judicial review and an order to quash the directives of the Media Council of Uganda, arguing that they are intended to curtail the press freedom and civic space.

In addition, they want Court to order for prohibition and a permanent injuction restraining the respondent’s security agencies from implementing the illegal, irregular and irrational directives of the media council.

 

 

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