Wednesday April 30 2014

New media rules unacceptable

Information minister Rose Namayanja recently issued a set of terms that threaten to gag journalists operations in Uganda.

The Press and Journalist Regulations, 2014, requires journalists to pay Shs30,000 to enrol, another Shs30,000 for the craft certificate, Shs50,000 to enter journalists roll, Shs200,000 for practicing certificate and Shs100,000 for annual renewal. Government says the measures help shape media-State work relationship.

But the statutory demands are unacceptable and violate journalists’ rights to freedom of expression under Uganda’s 1995 Constitution. Article 29 spells out every person’s right to freedom of speech and expression, which includes freedom of the press and other media.

We reject the exorbitant, restrictive, and prohibitive controls. The demands knock off the independence of journalists. This implies journalist who cannot pay the trade fees cannot practice and government can choose who should practice journalism and any journalist who fails to pay can be de-registered.

Government must not negate the Constitution, which guarantees democratic principles. Similar laws on fee levy and compulsory accreditation were struck down by the courts in Zambia and the African Court on Human and People’s Rights ruled in favour of Zambian journalists and the requirements dismissed as unprogressive.

The media fraternity must come out and defend their rights. The challenge of constitutionality of the Press and Journalists Act, 1995, by the Uganda Human Rights Network of Journalists, must be supported.

Government’s guidelines on professional code of conduct for journalists and editors are redundant. They are covered under in-house editorial guidelines of mainstream media houses.

Nonetheless, media houses should show government they are committed to ensuring highest possible ethical standards and can guarantee self-regulation. What government needs is to support the media in setting up a new, independent self-regulatory body to substitute the Media Council to arbitrate and adjudicate disputes. This would work in the frame of the UK Press Complaints Commission soon to be renamed the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

The statutory controls cannot guarantee raising standards of journalism. Self-regulation combines high standards of ethical reporting with a free press.

Government must respect democratic principles and drop the regulations.