Media freedom is a key tenet of democracy. The media plays a very vital role in any given election. So, all political actors should be allowed to access the media, and journalists should not be victimized for covering elections.
Since the commencement of by-elections in Uganda, the journalists and media houses focusing on covering the elections in various areas especially in Kayunga district have been a target of attacks by security operatives in both police and army uniforms.
Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) has documented over seventeen (17) cases of journalists who have been teargassed, blocked, assaulted, and arrested, while others have been threatened for continuing to cover the said elections. Some journalists moving in media vans were seen struggling to flee teargas smoke directed at them while on duty.
A privately-owned radio station, Radio Simba which was giving live relay of the progress of the elections through its team of reporters centered in the district were ordered to immediately stop all the coverage or have the station closed down for allegedly giving ‘biased reporting’. The station’s News Editor, Dick Nvule said they have since stopped the regular reporting and withdrawn their reporters from the area under duress.
During the 2021 general and local government elections, journalists were shot at, arrested, detained, assaulted, and blocked from accessing news scenes and their gadgets destroyed as well as deleting their recorded journalistic material, mainly by the security forces. Most of the victims were those covering the political opposition campaigns. A number of media houses saw the security in the respective areas storm their studios and violently throw out the opposition politicians, while over 5 media houses were closed down at the hands of the security.
Unfortunately, the perpetrators of abuse and violence against journalists and attacks on media houses have not been brought to book despite several investigative reports exposing the extent of violation of press freedom in the country.
As a media rights organization, HRNJ-Uganda appeals to media regulatory bodies, security forces –especially the police and political actors to ensure that journalists are free to do their work, investigate and bring to book all perpetrators of violence and abuses against journalists.
We urge journalists to remain safe and responsible as they do their work. They should also give accurate reports to the public.
The Electoral Commission should encourage all political actors, mainly the security forces, to ensure that journalists are free and able to cover the elections at all times.