The Press and Journalist Act (2000)

This law was enacted in 1995 by the National Resistance Council that acted as the National Assembly of the Republic of Uganda. In 2000, it was proclaimed an Act of Parliament. Its commencement on 28 July 1995 repealed the Newspaper and
Publications Act Cap 305 and the Press Censorship and Correction Act Cap 306 both of which were colonial laws.

The promoters of The Press and Journalist Act in 1995 argued that it was intended to professionalise journalism just like the legal and the medical profession by creating structures and processes through which one can become a journalist and practice journalism as a profession. According to the promoters, the law was to make the practice of journalism better, get rid of the ‘quacks’ and make it a preserve for the educated.

The preamble of the Act partly provides that “An Act to ensure freedom of the press…” however, the content and provisions of the law unjustifiably restrict freedom of expression which include the freedom of the press and pose a seriousnthreat to the right to seek, receive and impart information.

The Act is a danger to the right to communication which is guaranteed by the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda. It criminalizes practice of journalism without a practicing certificate issued by a statutory body under the control of the minister of Information; it conscripts journalists into one association and sets an onerous process of enrolling as a journalist before receiving a practicing certificate. The law defines a journalist as ‘a person who has enrolled as journalist under the law’.

The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers issued a recommendation in 2000 that defined a “journalist” as “any natural or legal person who is regularly or professionally engaged in the collection and dissemination of information to the public via any means of mass communication.”

Courts have also ruled that a nontraditional journalist “must have some nexus, relationship, or connection to “news media”, “first, a connection to news media, second, a purpose to gather, procure, transmit, compile, edit or disseminate news,
and third, that the materials sought were gathered in the course of professional activities.” 19 In this regard, it is therefore not necessary for journalists to enroll and acquire practicing certificates in order to receive, impart and disseminate
information.

Sections 5, 6 and 7 of the Act provide for the compulsory registration on the editor with the Media Council which is a government body, functions and parameters within which an editor should conduct his duties and the procedure for disqualification of an editor from his job. Section 5 makes it obligatory for a mass media organization to submit to the Media Council particulars of an editor within thirty days of appointment. However, the term editor is vaguely defined in
the law to “include a person who is, at any given time, in charge of programme production at a radio or television station.” The definition does cater for an editor in print media. Mass media on the other hand is defined in the Act to

“include newspapers, posters, banners and electronic media published for public consumption”. The law makes it a criminal offence not to submit the details of an editor to the Media Council, attracting a sentence of imprisonment for a period
not exceeding three months or a fine.

Section 6 of the Act spells out the functions of an editor to include ensuring that what is published is not contrary to “public morality”, retain a copy of what is published for a period of not less than ten years and in case of broadcast, for a period not less than thirty days. Determining what is not contrary to public morality according to the law is unclear. Although the law spells out the journalism code of ethics, the explicit definition of public morality still remains ambiguous and vague.

Section 7 spells out conditions of non- qualification for the post of editor which includes failure to be enrolled and granted a practicing certificate by the statutory Media Council. In other words, the law mandates all editors to fulfil the requirements and processes of enrolling and acquiring practising certificates in order to be legitimate in the journalism profession. These provisions of the law erode the principle of editorial independence an internationally known and recognized principle of media freedom and freedom of expression.

The law establishes a Media Council composed of government and non- government officials all appointed by the Minister in Charge of Information.mSection 8 (3) of the Act makes it mandatory for the Minister to appoint members of the Council, and the Secretary to the Council must be a senior government official from the Ministry of Information.

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