Journalists in Uganda face intimidation and violence on a nearly daily basis. They are regularly targeted by the security services, the leading perpetrators of attacks against journalists.
More than 200 radio stations and some 30 television networks are operating in the country, many of them belonging to members or supporters of the National Resistance Movement, the ruling party. There are numerous state-owned media outlets, influential and loyal to Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986. Some privately owned media do produce quality content, such as those owned by the Nation Media Group: KFM, Dembe FM, NTV, NBS and The East African, a weekly that sets a standard for journalism in the region.
President Museveni does not tolerate criticism and regularly indulges in hateful commentary against the press. He threatened in 2021 to force the Daily Monitor, the country’s major daily, into bankruptcy. In 2018, he called journalists “parasites”. Authorities routinely interfere directly with the broadcasts of some TV reports, demanding that they be cut from programmes. And in 2019, police raided three private radio stations to cut short interviews with an opposition politician. The media regulatory agency is directly controlled by the government.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but in practice the media are hindered by a series of laws, including those on fraudulent digital activity, anti-terrorism and public order. In 2021, the constitutional court rejected appeals by journalist associations against draconian legal provisions against the media. A law on access to information does exist, but journalists face a number of obstacles, and pressure for self-censorship, when they seek information of public interest.
Journalists are among the country’s worst-paid professionals. Work contracts are rare, and only a few reporters make more than 200 dollars (about 180 euros) a month. Their financial insecurity makes them susceptible to corruption.
Several media outlets belong to religious groups, some of which are aligned with the government, such as the Pentecostal movement, very influential in the country, which includes the president’s wife and daughter in its ranks.
Kidnapping, violence, illegal confinement, arrest, confiscation of equipment – these are some of the consequences that journalists face if they criticise the regime. Museveni’s re-election to a sixth term in 2021 followed an especially repressive electoral campaign, with more than 40 attacks against media organisations and journalists. Officials resorted to censorship – an internet blackout – and disinformation, accusing some journalists of being CIA agents. The surveillance of reporters was heightened by the June 2017 creation of a unit of security officers and high-tech experts assigned, among other tasks, to monitor journalists’ social network posts.