In September 2010, Freedom House led a four-day International Joint Partnership Freedom of Expression mission to Uganda to examine the country’s freedom of expression environment in light of a proposed amendment to the Press and Journalism Bill and upcoming general elections. The mission sent President Museveni a letter in advance about its concerns, and although the mission did not meet with the president, the government did provide wide access to speak with officials.
While Uganda boasts a relatively open and diverse media sector by regional standards, media practitioners, journalists, cartoonists, and activists in Uganda face grave and pervasive systemic and legal challenges and are forced, especially those in the countryside, to carry out their work in an environment of widespread impunity and under constant pressure from the authorities. Since September 2009, when deadly riots rocked Uganda and several radio stations were subsequently closed, journalists have engaged in greater self-censorship. In a move applauded by international observers, a Ugandan law against sedition was scrapped in August 2010, but journalists and other free speech advocates continue to face other challenges. Violence against journalists continues, as two journalists were killed in three days in September; the Electronic Media Act and Anti-Terror Act give the government broad authority to shut down stations and otherwise infringe on journalism; and many media outlets are owned by politicians, creating dangerous conflicts of interest.
In its report, the group made 13 recommendations including repealing laws that do not adhere to constitutional protections for free speech; fully implementing and funding the Access to Information Act; ensuring the Broadcasting Council follows due process in sanctioning media outlets and re-open CBS radio without further delay; and all cases against journalists be carried out in accordance with due process and the presumption of innocence. Just weeks later, CBS was allowed to resume broadcasting.
The mission left the Uganda Independent asking, “Should defending media be left to foreign activists?”
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