October 6, 2016

Ugandan journalists banned from covering opposition politics

Credit : Daily Monitor / Soldiers and policemen at a roadblock on the road of Entebbe airport on 3 October
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Ugandan authorities to stop preventing journalists from covering opposition activities and stop harassing parliamentary correspondents in various ways including accusations of working for the opposition.

News blackout on opposition

In one of the latest examples, a roadblock manned by soldiers and anti-terrorist police prevented reporters from going to Kampala’s Entebbe airport on 3 October to cover opposition leader Kizza Besigye’s return from a trip abroad. Besigye was arrested on arrival.

The security forces claimed that they were acting on the orders of the Ugandan Communications Commission (UCC), which regulates the media, but the UCC denied this the next day on Twitter, saying: “Maintaining law and order is not our mandate... that mandate is with the Media Council.”

“The government uses force to prevent journalists from doing their work and then tries to use the media regulatory bodies to justify its abuses,” said Cléa Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This is unacceptable. The executive must stop harassing journalists who are only doing their job when they cover opposition developments.”

The outside broadcasting trucks that Nile Broadcasting Service (NBS) and Nations Television (NTV) dispatched on 3 October were forced to turn back at the roadblock. Police threatened to arrest Stephen Kafeero, a reporter for the independent Daily Monitor newspaper, if he did not stop filming and taking photos of the roadblock and they briefly confiscated his mobile phone.

Last week, police inspector general Kale Kayihura accused the media of being “biased” and of working for the opposition with the aim of discrediting the government.

Parliamentary reporters under surveillance

The harassment of Uganda’s journalists has been growing steadily since last year, as tension began to mount in the run-up to the presidential election held in February 2016. The authorities now attack or censor any coverage of the opposition and any criticism of the government.

The latest draconian initiative is parliamentary speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s call on 15 September for journalists who cover parliament in a “negative” manner to be investigated by parliament’s Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline and possibly charged with “contempt of parliament”. Their reporting reflected a “campaign of malice,” she said.

Her call was prompted by articles in the Daily Monitor and Observer newspapers about extravagant spending by parliamentarians. The editors of these two newspapers and the Ugandan Radio Network, which quoted the two articles, were questioned by the committee about the articles yesterday.

Several experts on Uganda constitutional law have said this initiative violates the constitution and the spirit of the legal provisions on "contempt of parliament", which are supposed to be used only to maintain order in parliament and ensure that it is able to function properly.

On 28 June, parliament refused to issue accreditation to several journalists on the grounds that they did not have a university degree. They included Yasiin Mugerwa, who has been covering parliament for the Daily Monitor for the past ten years.

Uganda is ranked 102nd out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.