Govt, media fight again over  push to register journalists  

Dr Chris Baryomunsi. Photo | File

What you need to know:

  • Dr Baryomunsi said since the call in August to have journalists get registered afresh, only a handful have responded to the government’s call. 

Government has renewed its push to have journalists get accredited afresh by the Uganda Media Council as they go about covering public events.

The minister of Information, Communication, Technology and National Guidance, Dr Chris Baryomunsi, said following the recent Constitutional Court ruling, the Uganda Media Council has since asked journalists to get accredited.

Dr Baryomunsi said since the call in August to have journalists get registered afresh, only a handful have responded to the government’s call. 

“In exercise of its mandate, the Media Council of Uganda on the 16th of August 2021, issued a notice to all editors, publishers and broadcasters to register their editors and producers within 30 days from the date of notice. It’s regrettable that to date, only a few of you have complied.” he said.

The minister was speaking at a media breakfast meeting in Kampala on Thursday with more than 100 editors and media managers in attendance. 

But one of the journalists’ lawyers, Mr Francis Gimara, scoffed at government’s demands to have journalists accredited afresh as illegal. 
He said the Media Council is still not yet fully constituted to carry out the same mandate. 

Similarly, Mr Robert Sempala, the national coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) – Uganda, said the call by Media Council to journalists is illegal. He said the High Court ruling stopping the same process hasn’t been set aside.

But Dr Baryomunsi assured the journalists that their registration is not being pursued in bad faith but to crack down on quack journalists and ensure the genuine members work in a professional environment.

“The purpose of registration is to among others, comply with the law; facilitate the authentication of the media practitioners; and to create a database for media practitioners with a view to facilitate and enhance professionalism among the media practitioners,” he said.

Dr Baryomunsi said, “This exercise is the cornerstone of smooth interaction of the media with government. Among others, we intend to ensure that all registered journalists have the right skills to carry out their work in a professional manner within the parameters of a free and responsible media.” 

The demand to have the journalists get accredited afresh, comes after a July ruling of the Constitutional Court where the court reaffirmed the mandate of the Council.

The court quashed the journalists’ claims that the stringent State regulations contained in the Press and Journalist Act were curtailing their work. Core to the bid by media defenders was 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 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, is unconstitutional.

The journalists were also challenging Section 6(a) of the Press and Journalist Act, which required proprietors and editors of media organisations to ensure that what is published is not contrary to public morality.

But the same ruing of the court has since been appealed before the Supreme Court and its pending determination.

Background
Earlier this year, the High Court in Kampala, quashed with costs, the directives by the Media Council that had required journalists to register to cover the 2021 general election and other State events.
Presiding judge, Esta Nambayo declared that the registration of journalists by the Media Council without an operational National Institute of Journalists of Uganda to enroll journalists in accordance with the Press and Journalists Act, was illegal.

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