The proposed fees for journalists in Uganda present a major setback for media freedoms – a constitutional right – and if implemented, will permit excessive state interference in media operations.
The proposal requires journalists to pay a Sh200,000 for a practicing certificate, Shs100,000 to renew it annually and some Shs30,000 for an enrollment certificate and another Shs50,000 to enter the journalist’s certificate into the register of journalists, among other fees.
The Press and Journalists (fees) Regulations 2014 breaches Article 29 (1) (a) of the Constitution of Uganda which provides that “Every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.”
The new fees mean government is giving itself the mandate to legally control the media. How will the media play its watchdog role of holding the government accountable?
This law also stifles freedom of expression and free speech by giving government the power to determine who may practise journalism and who may not because the same government has the rights to either issue a journalist a certificate or revoke it. In the end, all these efforts work to stifle free speech and free expression, which is guaranteed under the Ugandan Constitution.
In Africa, Namibia still remains the highest ranking when it comes to upholding press freedom according to the recently-released 2014 ‘Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index.’ The index measures the state of media freedom every year globally, reflecting the degree of freedom that journalists, news media and citizens enjoy in each country. It also takes into account efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom and further measures the level of self-censorship in each country. This is the direction other African countries should take, instead of introducing laws that gag the media.
As the Inter-American Court on Human rights rightly put it, “A system that controls the right of expression in the name of a supposed guarantee of the correctness and truthfulness of the information that society receives can be the source of great abuse and, ultimately, violates the right to information that this same society has.”
The government should abandon this veiled attempt to stifle free speech and, instead, ensure the constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression are upheld.