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Uganda MFC Statement Against State Press Gag

Uganda MFC Statement Against State Press Gag

Article ID:

21352

The chaos that followed the September announcement by Uganda’s government of sweeping changes to the constitution – including a new age-limit bill – led to the gagging of the country’s media. In a move of defiance, the Uganda Media Freedom Committee (MFC) wrote a strong statement in protest, which has been shared across a vast number of platforms.

By Colette Davidson

Uganda’s parliament took the first steps towards foregoing the presidential age limit at the end of September, which would see leader Yoweri Museveni remain in power. The results of that announcement led to fistfights in parliament between opposing parties and a subsequent gagging of any press who reported on the subject.

On 26 September, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) ordered broadcasters to immediately refrain from showing live feeds of the parliamentary debates, claiming they were in contravention of a section within the Uganda Communications Act of 2013.

Journalists who continued to broadcast news surrounding the changes to the constitution have faced detainment and arrest, with several radio and television stations threatened over hosting members of parliament opposed to the bill.

When the UCC called for a press briefing explaining why they had refused broadcasters to cover the parliament live, the Uganda MFC realized they needed to act. After several exchanges via their WhatsApp group – comprising of over 350 journalists networked around a range of press freedom and professional practice issues – they came up with a statement in protest of the widespread gagging of the press taking place in Uganda.

“In what I can say was a robust, quick and enthusiastic way, different members worked to draft the statement, design a quick document and have others agree to append their signatures as journalists,” says Carol Beyanga, Managing Editor of Digital Content at Monitor Publications Ltd and the Uganda MFC Chair. “We agreed to spread the word far and wide, and look for opportunities to get onto major platforms and talk about the issue.”

The statement was then shared on several platforms, including media websites and newspapers, organisations and associations. While the government has yet to respond to the statement, it has been met with enthusiasm by the public. The amendment of the age-limit to the constitution has received negative reactions across the country, with demonstrations in several cities in Uganda. Beyanga says that it was, most likely, a reaction that the government didn’t see coming. 

“In 2005, [the government] amended the constitution to remove term limits, so one can stand for presidency for as many times as they want,” says Beyanga. “When they did so, there was not as much noise or disapproval – instead, there was support for them. They probably expected this reaction and were surprised to find the reaction was different!”

Regardless of whether media houses are free and independent or controlled by the government, none of Uganda’s media are touching the age-limit bill in their publications, says Beyanga. 

“It is likely the government does not want these sorts of stories covered because it shows that many people are not for the amendment,” says Beyanga, “but even more importantly that people are willing to come together, demonstrate, march and do all sorts of things to voice their displeasure.”


To read the statement in protest of the press gagging, click on the link http://observer.ug/news/headlines/55224-statement-ugandan-journalists-protest-gagging-by-the-state.html or watch one of the Uganda MFC members talking about it on NBS TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nizZe_9rGio

Author

Andrew Heslop's picture

Andrew Heslop

Date

2017-10-30 16:58

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In countless countries, journalists, editors and publishers are physically attacked, imprisoned, censored, suspended or harassed for their work. WAN-IFRA is committed to defending freedom of expression by promoting a free and independent press around the world. Read more ...