Journalists appeal court verdict on restrictive laws

Friday July 30 2021
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Military Police clobber supporters of Bobi Wine and journalists outside the UN offices in Kampala on February 17. Journalists say the current State laws are curtailing their work. PHOTO/AFP

By Anthony Wesaka

Journalists have appealed against the recent Constitutional Court judgment, which quashed their claims that the stringent State regulations contained in the Press and Journalist Act were curtailing their work.

Last Friday, in a unanimous judgment, the justices threw out the journalists’ petition that had been in court for seven years, reasoning the sections of the law pointed out as contentious do not infringe on their rights to freedom of expression.

The petitioners who represented journalists were Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ), East Africa Media Institute and Centre For Public Interest Law (CEPIL).

But the group has filed an appeal notice against the ruling.

“Take notice that the above named petitioners, being dissatisfied with the decision of court……given at Kampala on July 23, intend to appeal to the Supreme Court against the whole decision,” read in part the July 26 appeal notice.

The media defenders have also asked the Constitutional Court to avail them with typed certified copies of the judgment to facilitate their appeal.

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“Our clients are dissatisfied with the whole decision and intend to appeal. We hereby request to be furnished with a typed certified copy of the record of proceedings and judgment to facilitate our expeditious filing of the appeal,” the appeal notice adds.

Mr Robert Sempala, the national coordinator of HRNJ, yesterday said: “The decision of the Constitutional Court is unfortunate. We have filed a notice of appeal in the Supreme Court. We can’t afford to lose this opportunity to liberate the media from State control through the long arm of the Media Council, which is under the direct control of the minister, a political appointee of the President, yet the act as amended gives him wild powers.”

“In this current state of affairs, the media is under heightened self-censorship for fear of committing offences, which are not explicitly defined in the law,” he added.

In their 2014 petition, the media defenders had, among others, argued that the Press and Journalist Act is inconsistent with the right to a fair hearing, expression, assembly and association as enshrined in articles 28, 29 (1) and 40 (2) of the Constitution.

They had also argued that the Act, in granting the line minister wide powers to intervene in the Media Council and Disciplinary Committee, bodies whose powers supposedly curtail freedom of the press, was unconstitutional.

Further, the journalists had also challenged Section 6 (a) of the Press and Journalist Act, which requires proprietors and editors of media organisations to ensure that what is published is not contrary to the public morality.

The judgment

On Friday last week, justices Monica Mugenyi, Geoffrey Kiryabwire, Hellen Obura, Elizabeth Musoke and Remmy Kasule in a unanimous judgment threw out the journalists’ petition.

“Finally, as illustrated earlier in this judgment, the requirement for media public morality derives from international human rights instruments to which Uganda is obligated. On the other hand, proportionate way to achieve compliance with the mass media regulatory regime prescribed in the Act. Indeed, the limitations in both statutory provisions do not erode or otherwise render the right to freedom of expression illusory,” ruled Justice Monica Mugenyi, who wrote the lead judgment.


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