MEDIA LEGAL ENVIRONMENT

Uganda has a number of laws that criminalize freedom of expression. The legal regime undermines, stifles, restricts and curtails the enjoyment of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda, 1995. Article 29 (1) (a) provides for every person’s right to ‘freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media’ while Article 41(1) states that every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person.

1. Public Order Management Act 2013-Meant to govern modalities surrounding holding of peaceful demonstrations and processions. The law contravenes Articles 29 (1) (a) (b) (c) (d) and (e) of the Constitution of Uganda that guarantee the freedom of speech and expression; freedom of thought, conscience and belief; freedom to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peacefully and unarmed and to petition; freedom of association which shall include the freedom to form and join associations or unions, including trade unions, political and other civic organizations respectively.

2. The Press and Journalist Act (2000)

It entails restraining provisions surrounding the debatable question of who is a journalist; and the attendant qualifications modalities. The law obliges a journalist to enroll and possess a practicing certificate upon registration with the responsible statutory Media Council established within the Act. The certificate is subject to suspension for six (6) months in alignment with a proviso of finding the certificate holder guilty of professional misconduct. The potential to use this law to witch hunt and subdue journalists using the certificate bait is enormous hence the need for reformation of the law.

3. The Penal Code Act (1950 amended in 2007)-Largely a colonial legislation meant to protect the interests of the colonialists, some of the offending anti-freedom and rights provisions remain prevalent therein to date. This Act still maintains some provisions that are injurious to free speech such as sections 41, 179 and 180 among others. Section 41 provides that : a person who prints, publishes, makes or utters any statement or does any act which is likely to (a) degrade, revile or expose to hatred or contempt; (b) create alienation or despondency of; (c) raise discontent or disaffection among; or (d) promote, in any other way, feelings of ill will or hostility among or against any group or body of persons on account of religion, tribe or ethnic or regional origin commits the offence of promoting sectarianism and is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a period of no more than five years.

Additionally, section 53 provides, ‘Any person who, without such justification or excuse as would be sufficient in the case of the defamation of a private person, publishes anything intended to be read, or any sign or visible representation, tending to degrade, revile or expose to hatred or contempt any foreign prince, potentate, ambassador or other foreign dignitary with intent to disturb peace and friendship between Uganda and the country to which such prince, potentate, ambassador or dignitary belongs, commits a misdemeanor.’

Moreover, sections, 53 (foreign dignitaries) 179 (libel) and 180 (defamation) have been invoked by various government officials with questionable credentials of accountability and (ab) use of public office to shield themselves from public scrutiny by journalists.

4. The Access to Information Act (2005) – enacted to operationalize Article 41 of the Constitution which provides for right of access to information within government agencies’ confines.

The law provides for access to information and records in possession of government and its agencies both at the central and local government level as directed by Article 41 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. The foremost rationale of the Act is: ‘to empower the public to effectively scrutinize and participate in Government decisions that affect them.’ Despite its well meaning provisions, the law has been rendered ineffectual by the Official Secrets Act of 1964, which encourages concealment of official information amongst public officials.’ To circumvent this, journalists have to undertake investigative journalism to unearth issues of bad governance.

5. The Anti-Terrorism Act (2002)-Enacted at the peak of global efforts and debates on how to combat terrorism. Section 9 (1) criminalizes the publication and dissemination of news materials ‘that promote terrorism’, an expression that is obscurely defined and is predisposed to misuse and exploitation by the echelons of power. Further chillingly though, the Act provides that journalists’ material can be subjected to terrorism investigations and cannot profit from exclusion/immunity. This offends journalism and its attendant ideas of confidentiality and fortification of sources.

6. The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (2010) – Meant to be a framework to legitimize surveillance, tracking, intercepting and monitoring communications (telecommunications and any other related mode of communication) of persons injurious to national security.

The Act provides for the issuance of an ‘interception warrant’ by a Judge on receipt of an oral application from a government agency that has ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe that: a) felony has been or will probably be committed; b) the gathering of information concerning an actual threat to national security or any national economic interest is necessary; c) the gathering of information concerning a potential threat to public safety, national security, or any national interest is necessary; or d) there is a threat to the national interest involving the State’s international relations or obligations. With such over sweeping provisions for surveillance, there is fear that sources of journalists shall be prone to disclosure, a negative precedent in the quest for media rights.

7. The Anti-Pornography Act 2014

Sections 2, 3, 13, 16 and14 have great potential to inhibit media freedom in Uganda. S.3 (1) provides that; “A person shall not produce, traffic in, publish, broadcast, procure, import, export, sell or abet any form of pornography.” Under Section 3 (2), on conviction, the offences attract a fine up to Uganda shillings ten (10) million (about USD 5,000) or imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both.

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