Following a serie of incidents where security agents attacked journalists while executing their duties on different campaign trials of the opposition candidates, Police at the end of last year issued a statement that notified all members of the fourth estate that they will not be allowed to cover elections without accreditation from the Uganda Media Council.
“We wish to notify the public that with effect from the 31.12.2020, the police and sister security agencies shall recognize only journalists and media practitioners who are accredited by the Media Council, during the coverage of political campaigns and other electoral events. The accreditation process that has been open to all media practitioners expired on the 31.12.2020. As we had indicated in our communication of 14.12.2020, the accreditation will help us distinguish journalists who are compliant from those who are holding out,” DIGP Maj Gen Paul Lokech said in a document issued on 30th December, 2020.
“The Media Council has generated a list of all journalists who have been accredited, registered and are compliant with valid Media Council press badges, which shall operate as a working tool by the bonafide journalists. All the accredited journalists and media practitioners must visibly wear their press badges at all times while covering the political campaigns and electoral events. They should also know that the media press badges are personalized and therefore, non-transferable,” he added.
However, media practitioners are seeing this directive as a direct attack on journalists and the constitution at large because a day before it was issued, journalists had boycotted covering a security press conference at Uganda Media Central following the refusal of the Uganda People Defense Force (UPDF) Chief Political Commissar Maj Gen Henry Masiko to apologize for the inhuman actions soldiers had committed against them over time.
On the 27th December, last year over three journalists were assaulted by security agents these include; Ashraf Kasirye from Ghetto media who was hit with a rubber bullet on the head and he is still in the hospital, Ali Mivule from NTV who was hit with tear gas canister by one of the senior Police officers who called it collateral damage, NBS journalist Daniel Lutaaya was also hit. The affected journalists were on presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi alias Bobi Wine’s campaign trail.
Journalists demanded an apology from the security officers but instead, the Major General was asking them to be professional, something that showed that attacks on journalists are still on their way and the perpetrators are not willing to hold back their pride.
And indeed, attacks continued. A few days after the protest, journalists who had gone to cover Bobi Wine’s campaigns in Kalangala district were arrested and their working gadgets destroyed by security operatives.
Nevertheless, as journalists waited for answers from security on why attacks are meted on them, Maj. Gen Lokech issued a document giving police full mandate to enforce professional standards of journalism which is contrary to the constitution as far as the duties of Police and the army are concerned.
Dr. Samuel Kazibwe, a media theorist and senior practitioner while analysing the same document said that if such directive is put into practice it will lead to a complete removal of a full article 29 that calls for freedom of speech from the constitution.
“This article gives Ugandans and journalists inclusive rights to speak their mind freely whether the government supports it or not. Because the philosophical foundation of this article was based on libertarian or Market place theory. What we are currently seeing is that journalists covering bad and good actions by the security agents are now the targets to those officers committing crimes and they have been arrested outside the confines of the law,” he said.
“Media Council which gives the certificate of practice has the mole authority to enforce journalistic standards but not Police. When the Police come in to enforce professional standards, that is not a democracy but road to communism. If they tell us that Uganda now has changed its ideology from democracy to communism this will be fine because that is what communist’s government do. They control media and everything.”
According to Dr. Kazibwe, any country practising liberal democracy has to take off hands from the media.
“Having a card from Media Council as the Police statement alludes to me it’s fine but the honour of our constitution is what pains me. Article 29 does not speak on journalists only but every Ugandan. Some police allow only journalists with cords, then the common person’s right to excess inform is also infringed. Therefore the Police statement is contrary to the constitution and anything that is against the constitution is automatically void because it’s fighting against the supreme law,” he said.
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