FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION: “UGANDA LAWS BEST IN AFRICA”-MEDIA TRAINER.

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A top media trainer in Africa has said that the 1995 Uganda Constitution has some of the best Articles on “Freedom of Expression and Access to Information:” in Africa, which is second only to South Africa.

Mr. David Ouma Balikowa, a retired journalist and a  co-founder of the Monitor Publications Limited of Uganda, made the remarks during a two- days’ media training for journalists from Northern Uganda held in Gulu town from 20th- 21st July 2015.

The nationwide training for media practitioners was sponsored by Uganda National Commission for United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the theme: Freedom of Expression and Access to Information” ahead of next year’s elections.

He sighted Article 43(2a-c) of the Constitution which provides a “limitation upon limitations” on freedom of expression, narrowing the scope of application of the limitations.

“This is one of the most beautiful parts of our Constitution. It is only next to that of South Africa. We don’t want laws that will incriminate all of your activities. We want laws that are focused on smaller fields if necessary, narrowly and concisely defined.” He told participants.

 In a Status study report on “Freedom of Information and Access to Information in Uganda”, which was sponsored by the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO and distributed to participants, Mr. Balikowa quotes Article 29(1)a, Article 41(1), Article 20(1) of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda to back up his argument.

The 1995 Constitution of Uganda is relatively elaborate in its provision on the freedom of opinion, expression and information guarantees. Article 29(1)a, provides that everyone shall have the right to “freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media”.

Article 41(1) provides that “Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other agency of the State…”

Under Article 20(!), the right to expression and access to information is “inherent and not granted by the State”. By respecting and promoting the right, the State is merely fulfilling its constitutional obligation and not doing anyone a favor.

“What Article 43(2a-c) is saying is that for any limitation on these rights, it must be justifiable to the State as stated by Justice Mulenga in his  landmark ruling on the court case of Charles Onyango-Obbo and Andrew Mujuni Mwenda v Attorney General”. He said.

He said democracy is all about the rule of Law and rights to freedom to Assemble, organize into associations and to demonstrate. He appealed to media practitioners in Uganda to challenge such laws in courts; as those which govern Political Parties, Public Order Management Act, publishing false news, Promotion of Sectarianism, criminal defamation and the Anti-Terrorism Act (2002) which hands out a death sentence to journalists convicted of publishing news or materials that promote terrorism which infringe on these rights.

“Besides the death sentence having a chilling effect on the journalism profession, the law could, in a fluid political context rife with civil strife, be used by government to censor political opponents or block out any information about conflicts in the country”. He wrote in the status report.

“I don’t think stopping someone (former Prime Minister John Patrick Amama Mbabazi) from going to Mbale to consult his supporters or allowing National Resistance Movement (NRM) youths in Gulu to carry coffin in a demonstration against his (Mbabazi’s) visit to the region undermines National Security”.

The status study was carried out “to ascertain the extent to which the media in Uganda is free to play its role, and to explore and describe the level of compliance with national and international instruments that guarantee freedom of expression and information”.

“In commissioning this study, we want to engage and link the public and its institutions, academia and researchers in regular debate to contribute to the promotion of freedom of expression and information and ultimately increase their role and participation in open dialogue, governance and national development”. The Secretary General of Uganda National Commission for UNESCO, Mr. Augustine Omare-Okurut, wrote in the forward of the report. 

Balikowa said there are so many bad laws in the Penal Code Act which do not conform to International Standards or the Constitution, on justification of limitations of freedom of expression and information.

“We must have realistic limitations to the laws. How can you say: “here is food but you must not swallow it”?” He told journalists.

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