KAMPALA. The United States Ambassador to Uganda, Ms Deborah Malac, has described the media environment in Uganda as “increasingly threatening” and reminded government of its responsibility to “safeguard the constitutional right” to safeguard a free media.
Ambassador Malac opined that the raid on tabloid Pepper Publications more than a fortnight ago and arrest and charging of its senior editors “simply for publishing an article” was uncalled for. She added that if the “government believes that media stories contain falsehoods, there are legal ways to challenge the stories.”
The five Red Pepper directors and three editors have since been charged with publishing information prejudicial to security, libel and offensive communication to the person of President Museveni and his brother Gen Salim Saleh. They were on Tuesday remanded to Luzira prison until December 19.
In October, Ms Malac said the Uganda Communication Commission shut down Kanungu Broadcasting Services radio for allegedly violating minimum broadcasting standards.
“All of these events undermine the constitutional right of freedom of the press in Uganda, and they hurt the development of the country. I could go on, but the point is that journalists are facing a harsh and increasingly threatening environment,” she added.
Ambassador Malac made the remarks on Tuesday evening at the launch of the Uganda Press Photo Award (UPPA) five-year anniversary publication.
UPPA is an initiative conceived by the foreign journalist umbrella, Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda, to support photojournalism.
She said speaking out against documented attacks/abuses on the media as “another part [of] our commitment to the media” and urged everyone else to “because if we don’t, then we can’t expect anything to change.”
The transformative role of a free press has spanned generations and benefited societies across the world, resulting in the United Nations designating a special day to commemorate media contribution.
The UN General Assembly in 1993 gazetted every May 3 World Press Freedom Day to evaluate press freedom, pay tribute to journalists killed in the line of duty.
During this year’s celebrations, Reporters Without Borders, a not-for-profit French media freedom defender, reported that Uganda’s rankings on the press freedom index had dropped from the 102 position in 2016 to 112 in 2017.
Human Rights Network for Journalists - Uganda, a local body that fights for press freedom, said 45 journalists have been arrested, 29 assaulted, two radio stations switched off this year alone, showing Uganda is increasingly becoming dangerous for journalists to work in.
Speaking about his field experiences at Tuesday’s launch, Daily Monitor photojournalist Mr Abubaker Lubowa, baptised the media environment as “still being in analogue” mode whereas the world is digitally migrating.
“When all pens go silent and notebooks are closed, cameras remain the only open window. Better still, you can burn a notebook but you cannot burn an image,” Mr Lubowa said.