Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) is dismayed and deeply concerned with the heightened narrowing space for the media in Uganda. On 10th December 2020, the Media Council of Uganda issued a directive requiring journalists to register as provided for under Section 27 of the Press and Journalists Act. The section is to the effect that the Media Council shall upon payment of the prescribed fees, issue a practicing certificate to a person who is enrolled under the Press and Journalists Act. The Practicing Certificate shall be valid for one year and is renewable upon payment of the prescribed fees.
Section 28 of the Act empowers the Council not to allow a journalist to practice by refusal to grant a practicing certificate if that journalist is not enrolled, or (b) he or she has failed to comply with any order made under the Act.
The Press and Journalist Act further establishes the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda (NIJU) which is supposed to enroll all journalists in the country. A journalist who is not enrolled by the Institute is not eligible for a practicing certificate. Section 15 of the Act categorizes membership of NIJU into full, associate and honorary and limits full membership of the Institute to journalists who are degree holders. Section 15 (2) (a) and (b) provides that: A person shall be eligible for full membership of the institute if— (a) he or she is a holder of a university degree in journalism or mass communication; or (b) he or she is a holder of a university degree plus a qualification in journalism or mass communication, and has practiced journalism for at least one year.
It is worth noting that although the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda- NIJU is mandated to enroll journalists before they are granted practicing certificates, to date the body is nonexistent.
In light of the above, we certainly believe that the media council given that its composition is contested, cannot come out to claim that they are licensing journalists in the absence of a body that is mandated to enroll journalists before practicing certificates are issued. And also, the law clearly spells out the category of journalists to be enrolled with NIJU (assuming it was existing). This leaves many questions to be answered by the Media Council as to the qualifications they considering to license journalists. We therefore wonder whether the media council is following the right procedures of the law to license journalists.
We also note with concern that the timing for registration is suspicious given that the media council has been silent on this issue for some time and only comes out during an election period to accredit journalists to cover the electoral process and other events under the guise of ensuring their safety and security.
Worse still, some journalists who registered with the media council were not accredited. This creates more room for suspicion as to whether the council was targeting some journalists especially those that hold the state accountable.
We therefore conclude by noting that the Media Council should not go ahead and implement the directives issued on 10th December 2020 given that there are so many irregularities involved in the entire process. And also, the law under which they are proceeding –Press and Journalists Act cap 105 is being contested by HRNJ-Uganda, EAMI and CEPIL in the Constitutional Court under Constitutional Petition No. 009 of 2014.
The Uganda Police Force should also not go ahead and enforce the media council guidelines as indicated in the Press statement issued by the Deputy Inspector General of Police Maj.Gen.Paul Lokech on 30th December 2020 for reasons mentioned above.