KAMPALA. Uganda is among the 22 African countries with bad press freedom records, a new global press freedom index has revealed. The report says acts of intimidation and violence against reporters are an almost daily occurrence in Uganda and points out the security services as the leading press freedom violators.
“Any criticism of the authorities can result in journalists being beaten, abducted or deprived of their equipment with impunity. Uganda’s president for 33 years, tolerates no criticism and often uses hate speech in his references to the media, as in a 2018 press conference when he called journalists parasites,” the report says.
The report says charges of treason under the criminal code, which carry a heavy sentence, are often used to gag the media. It says it is not uncommon for the authorities to intervene directly to block the broadcasting of TV reports.
“During elections, the Internet is often disconnected or access to social networks is blocked. The media are threatened with closure when they cover Opposition activities. A daily tax on use of social networks and their associated messaging services, the first of its kind in Africa, was introduced in 2018, further undermining journalists and media outlets. On the pretext of combatting gossip, the tax penalises journalists and bloggers who frequently use these services to produce and share information,” the report reads in part.
Uganda government is yet to respond to the latest report. The previous reports have in the past been dismissed by the government.
The report says sub-Saharan Africa has not avoided the latest international decline in press freedom.
On the African continent, Namibia ranks best, 23rd globally with Burkina Faso 36th and Senegal 49th following in that order, which the report says “all have pluralist media.”
Eritrea (178th) and Djibouti (173rd) are what the report says “are information black holes where no independent media are permitted.” The situation in 22 of sub-Saharan Africa’s 48 countries is classified as either “bad” or “very bad.”
Big leap for Ethiopia
The report says Ethiopia, 110th globally, which used to be near the bottom of the index, has soared a spectacular 40 places following a change of government.
“Between releasing journalists and bloggers, lifting the ban on several hundred web sites and media outlets, and embarking on an overhaul of legislation that is extremely repressive for journalists, the new prime minister, Mr Abiy Ahmed, has taken swift and promising steps to improve press freedom and, for the first time in more than 10 years, no journalist was in prison at the end of 2018,” the report says.
Gambia (92nd) has jumped 30 places, confirming the promising evolution seen after dictator Yahya Jammeh’s departure. “New media outlets have been created, journalists have returned from self-imposed exile and the criminalisation of defamation has been declared unconstitutional,”
The report says in Tanzania which has moved 25 places down to 118th, the change of president in 2015 was accompanied by unprecedented attacks on the press and the country continued its disturbing decline in 2018.
Tanzania also passed a law requiring payment of a $900 fee to register a blog or news website, “an exorbitant sum whose sole aim is to limit online news and information as much as possible.”
Somalia, according to the report has continued to be Africa’s deadliest country for the media. Central Africa Republic just like Somalia continues to be a black hole for journalists.
Investigative journalism persecuted
The report also says investigative journalism continues to be very dangerous in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana, Mali and DR Congo.
“Félix Tshisekedi, elected as Kabila’s successor in January 2019, needs to prioritize the protection of journalists and to reform the legislation under which press offences are punishable by imprisonment if he wants the Congolese media to be the ‘real fourth estate’ that he promised in his inaugural address.”
Clampdown on election coverage
The report says the latest African elections have seen many attempts to restrict reporting, including arrests of journalists, disruption of social networks and Internet cuts.