Should Media Council give orders to Media Houses now?

Now and beyond, we should all embrace media duties and respect their constitutional rights.

INHOUSE—15, December 2020: Uganda will hold its general elections in January 2021. The January 14 presidential election will be the most critical exercise for the country, and as well life-threatening to ‘entire members’ of the Fourth Estate.

For months now, journalists and media houses have been suffocated with directives from State’s agencies: The latest is from Media Council of Uganda. Very worse, journalists covering elections and candidates—especially opposition candidates have been injured, teargassed, and intimidated by security forces.

We should all know that Access to Information in Uganda is a right, not a privilege.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” says Jarvin Mutatiina, a fellow at Pollicy.

Access to Information is catered for in Article 41 (1) of the Constitution, which provides for the right of every citizen of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State.

The Article provides for exceptions where the release of the information can be denied if it will prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person.

The main purpose of the Act is: ‘To empower the public to effectively scrutinize and participate in “government decisions that affect them”. It is supposed to promote an efficient, effective, transparent and accountable government by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information in the confines of the government agencies.

As a citizen of the country, a journalist derives his or her responsibility from Article 41 (1) besides Journalism Code of Ethics (or Standards) provided to him or her by his employer or their body (associations).

While it’s a right and responsibility of a journalist and media houses to do the above, it’s very unfortunate that many of them have been boxed with non-existing laws which denies them rights to carry out their mandates peacefully.

As media institutions, we should inform government and politicians of the importance of informing the public they serve; we should refuse to be gagged, provided whatever we are doing is legal and constitutional.

We call upon the Media Council to retract its recent (last week’s) directives to all journalists, both local and foreign to reapply for accreditation in order to cover 2021 elections.

This directive has come at a wrong time when most of the journalists were already endorsed by their media houses to cover the elections. We ask media council to rethink this move, a move which will universally put the country’s image to discredit.

At this moment, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) should come in and support journalists and media houses. Any failure by NAB not to respond forthwith, media houses who are its members will remain vulnerable and frightened yet, they are mandated to inform, educate and entertain, including tasking office bearers to account to the public they serve.


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