UGANDA: NUMEC CONDEMNS ATTACK ON MEDIA FREEDOM IN UGANDA AS WORLD CELEBRATES WPFD

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Dr. Okullu-Mura, a lecturer of Gulu University speaking to journalists, during WPFD.

“We cannot have anarchy. That is something we cannot tolerate”

“This year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) is being celebrated against the backdrop of increased threats to free speech in Uganda. The April 30 directive by UCC is suspected to be linked to the coverage the media houses gave to protests following the arrest and charging of opposition politician and musician, Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known by his stage name, Bobi Wine”

GULU-UGANDA: The Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC), an association of media practitioners based in Gulu, northern Uganda, has released a strongly worded press statement condemning the recent threats and attack on free speech in Uganda.

The statement, released on Friday, May 3, 2019 during celebrations to mark World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), follows an April 30 ill-informed directive by media regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to 13 media houses to suspend their news managers, program managers and some editorial staffs for suspicious reasons.

“This year’s World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) is being celebrated against the backdrop of increased threats to free speech in Uganda. The April 30 directive by UCC is suspected to be linked to the coverage the media houses gave to protests following the arrest and charging of opposition politician and musician, Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known by his stage name, Bobi Wine”, reads part of the press release.

The UCC’s draconian action has been condemned by press freedom advocates including ambassadors accredited to Uganda as a threat to free speech in Uganda; forcing Dictator Yoweri Museveni to hold an urgent meeting with European envoys.

During the meeting General Museveni is quoted to have told the ambassadors that ‘press freedom must be of quality but not the pseudo-ideology where the identity of people is attacked.

“We cannot have anarchy. That is something we cannot tolerate”, Dictator Museveni is quoted to have said.

The statement by NUMEC adds that while the body acknowledges that the right to freedom of expression is not absolute, it resolutely rejects the attempt by UCC to be “editor-in chief” of what kind of information Ugandans get; saying the regulatory body overstepped its regulatory mandate in issuing the directive.

“As NUMEC, we are concerned that the questionable directive by UCC is likely to be interpreted by overzealous state actors to find ground that in reality doesn’t legally exist in law to gag the media. Already we have in recent weeks seen in Lira, Kasese and Kabale the switching off of radio stations for simply hosting opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye”, the statement says in part.

The statement says that if the directive by UCC goes unchallenged in a court of law, then it poses a serious danger to media freedoms, particularly for journalists and media organizations outside Kampala who remain vulnerable to ill-informed and arbitrary directives from state actors.

“We therefore join our colleagues in Kampala and beyond to condemn UCC and urge the regulator to immediately rescind its unfortunate directive…NUMEC uses the occasion to call for constructive engagement between the media and the regulator; but not gagging orders. A free press is critical for democracy”, concludes the statement.

Speaking during a symposium to mark WPFD held at NUMEC offices, the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Gulu district, Maj. Santos Okot-Lapolo, advised media practitioners in the Acholi sub-region to focus on a program to address the issue of poverty among them.

He says media practitioners could easily benefit from government programs like Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) or Northern Uganda Social Action Fund (NUSAF) if they were organized and have programs to address the issue of poverty.

“We need to address the issue of poverty among media practitioners. Do you have a program for tapping government resources like OWC or NUSAF? My appeal to you is; do not fear to approach my office for assistance. Fear belongs to people who are not confident”, says Maj. Lapolo.

Giving a key-note address to the media practitioners, a lecturer at Gulu University, Dr. Okullu-Mura, says the world started to celebrate the WPFD way back in 1993 and says a lot has since happened which has revolutionized the media industry.

“Some of you have joined the media industry without seriously thinking of why you have gone into the media”, says Dr. Okullu-Mura.

 

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