Thursday June 12 2014

End media ban on public activities at National Theatre

The ban by the National Theatre of all meetings and events that attract media attention at the facility and interviews on its premises is unwarranted and should be quickly reversed. This ill-advised move threatens to gag media operations at the Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC). Moreover, the move also threatens citizens’ rights to assembly and association and rights to freedom of expression.

Perhaps this ban, now in its third month, would have passed quietly without the incident involving tobacco farmers on Tuesday. The management of the Centre threw out of the premises members of the Uganda Tobacco Growers Association, saying the farmers were allowed access to the venue on condition that the media would not be invited.
The management of the Centre should clearly explain this new-found fright about the media and interviews being conducted at the Centre because the excuse by UNCC’s public relations officer Robert Musiitwa is unjustifiable.

Ugandans have, for decades since inauguration in 1959, known the Centre for offering unrestricted space for several services, including the freedom to hold workshops, seminars, symposia, industrial training sessions, and public lectures.

The Centre also hosted such other functions as meetings, parties, and press conferences. Therefore, there is no way that these ranges of activities would not attract the media and interviews.
Nevertheless, one thing is clear, namely that the ban comes after several meetings by the Opposition at the Centre generated what the management described as bad publicity, compelling them to ban the events that involve the media.

This is why it is highly doubtable that such a crucial decision would have been taken by the Executive Director of the Centre and his management team without the tacit approval of the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development and Board of Trustees as the apex bodies and overseers of the Centre.

Besides, it is not intelligible enough for Mr Musiitwa to say he is well aware of the implications of the ban, which he maintains is only temporary and will be rescinded soon.

More importantly, rather than feign lack of information on the move, the Ministry of Gender Permanent Secretary, Mr Pius Bigirimana, should now take interest in the issue and review the decision to lock Ugandans and media from the premises of a public institution supported by taxpayers money.

This ban is unnecessary and suggestive of pressure and the wider attempts to constrain public spaces of freedom of assembly and expression in Uganda.
As a solution, the managers of UNCC should rescind the decision of shutting up citizens’ rights to assembly, free expression of alternative views and coverage by the media.