Freedom of the Press
- Although the country’s constitution provides for freedoms of expression and the press, several other laws negate these guarantees, and the government has increasingly cracked down on critical journalists and media houses.
- The penal code contains provisions on sedition, libel, and the promotion of sectarianism, all of which are applied selectively. Clauses of the Antiterrorism Act of 2002 have also been used against journalists, especially those who cover security issues.
- Multiple journalists appeared before the courts in 2009 on charges of sedition, criminal libel, and other offenses. Four journalists from Uganda’s largest independent newspaper, the Monitor, were charged with forgery for publishing a leaked presidential memorandum. They were later freed on bail, with trials pending at year’s end. Three other journalists with the Independent magazine, including editor Andrew Mwenda, were accused of sedition after publishing a caricature of President Yoweri Museveni. Mwenda already faced dozens of criminal charges, including a 2005 sedition charge, and has petitioned to have that offense dropped from the penal code. The case against the Independent staff was suspended in October 2009 until the Constitutional Court could deliver a ruling on Mwenda’s petition, which had yet to be issued at the end of the year.
- Also in October, two editors of the daily tabloid Red Pepper, Richard Tusiime and Francis Mutazindwa, were found guilty of defamation for articles published in February that accused Libyan leader Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi of having an affair with the queen mother of Toro, one of Uganda’s traditional kingdoms. The paper was ordered to pay al-Qadhafi US$50,000.
- Uganda is one of only a few countries in Africa with a freedom of information law. However, other laws related to national security and confidentiality impede open access to information in practice. In addition, the process for requesting official information is complicated, and state media are generally granted access more easily than private outlets.
- Several statutes, most notably the 1995 Press and Media Law, require journalists to register with the government-affiliated National Institute of Journalists of Uganda and obtain a license from the Media Council, which has been criticized for its lack of independence. Journalists must also meet certain standards, including the possession of a university degree. Although journalists are supposed to renew their licenses each year, this provision is frequently overlooked in practice.
- The Broadcasting Council (BC), established by the Electronic Media Act of 1996 to regulate broadcast licensing and monitoring, is not independent of the government. Authorities continue to interfere in private radio broadcasting, temporarily shutting down several stations in recent years. In September 2009, the government closed four radio stations and banned live debate programs after violent clashes broke out in Kampala between supporters of the king of Buganda, Uganda’s most populous traditional kingdom, and government security forces. The BC accused the Buganda-owned Central Broadcasting Service, Ssuubi FM, Radio Two, and the Roman Catholic Church’s Radio Sapientia of promoting sectarianism and inciting the violence. At year’s end, the ban on live debate programs remained in place, and only two of the radio stations, Radio Sapientia and Radio Two, had been reopened under instructions to practice “self-constraint.” They were also forced to dismiss certain staff members.
- The closure of the four radio stations had a chilling effect on journalists from all media platforms, leading many to avoid discussion of the conflict between Buganda and Museveni, among other sensitive topics.
- The government uses security agents to harass, intimidate, and detain critical journalists. In September 2009, Radio One journalist Kalundi Serumaga was abducted, detained incommunicado for a day, and allegedly beaten after appearing on a television talk show. He was charged with six counts of sedition and forced to give up his passport before being released on bail. The BC suspended Serumaga from participating in his radio talk shows.
- There are more than two dozen daily and weekly newspapers and about 100 private radio and television stations. Uganda’s leading daily newspaper, the government-owned New Vision, shows some editorial independence. Other print outlets such as the Monitor are generally critical of the government and offer a range of opposition views.
- Radio remains the most widely accessed source of information. In recent years, the number of community stations has grown across the country, including in the north, though stations in this area remain cautious with their broadcast content, fearing conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army rebel group. There are also concerns that the emerging radio stations, especially in the countryside, are owned by members and allies of the ruling party. The Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, the country’s public broadcaster, remains subservient to the interests of the ruling party and the government.
- High annual licensing fees for radio and television stations have placed financial constraints on the broadcast media.
- There is unrestricted access to foreign news sources, and domestic outlets draw on and reference these sources in their own reporting.
- Media owners are somewhat complicit in the erosion of press freedom in Uganda. In order to safeguard their investments, they reportedly comply with government requests, including onerous instructions as to which journalists are allowed to work for them.
- Commercial pressures continue to pose a major threat to media freedom. Most media houses are reluctant to annoy major advertisers, who are rarely subjected to any meaningful journalistic scrutiny. Newsrooms also are increasingly willing to run stories that promote certain companies.
- Internet penetration had grown to nearly 10 percent of the population by the end of year, and access is not officially restricted.
Press Freedom Score