Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The situation for the press worsened slightly during 2006 as a result of media harassment and criminal convictions against critical journalists surrounding the February presidential election. Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, libel is still considered a criminal offense, and laws enacted in the name of national security have limited the constitutional provisions in practice. The government also set new restrictions on the accreditation of foreign journalists prior to the election; this included mandatory vetting of all foreign correspondents by a new Media Center established by the government in 2005. Even those who had previously received accreditation were told to reregister at the center. Information Minister James Buturo said the step was taken because foreign journalists had become a “security threat.” On March 9, Canadian freelance journalist Blake Lambert was denied reentry to the country following a visit to South Africa. Lambert’s international reporting and his domestic radio commentary included criticism of the government; no official reason was given by authorities for denying him entry. However, in a positive move, a new regulation restricting in-country travel by international journalists was rescinded soon after it was promulgated.
A number of media outlets were harassed, intimidated, and censored throughout the year, particularly those entertaining perspectives from the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), the primary opposition party, during the election or giving voice to the Lord’s Resistance Army in the north. In March, the Mbale offices of the private radio station Open Gate FM were raided by police, who confiscated equipment and arrested two journalists for failing to produce a record of their March 18 interview with Nathan Mafabi Nandala, a parliamentarian and senior leader of the FDC. The two employees were later released without being formally charged. Also in March, two journalists with the private tabloid Red Pepper were temporarily detained and eventually released without charge after they published a leaked cabinet list. Shortly thereafter, Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, program manager of the private radio station Choice FM, was detained temporarily by police without charge after broadcasting a piece in February that the government deemed threatening to national security. In fact, soon after the election, Choice FM was forcibly shut by police on accusations of operating without a license. The station adamantly denies operating illegally but was permitted to reopen in July only after paying a fine in excess of US$2,700. In 2005, the government passed a ban on coverage of the trial of opposition leader Kizza Besigye; this ban continued in 2006, even though it was widely disregarded in practice without penalty. Two journalists from the respected Kampala-based Weekly Observer faced charges of “promoting sectarianism” in connection with a 2005 article criticizing the government’s prosecution of Besigye.
Independent media outlets—including more than two dozen daily and weekly newspapers as well as about 100 private radio and television stations—have mushroomed since the government loosened control in 1993, and they are often highly critical of the government and offer a range of opposition views. However, high annual licensing fees for radio and television stations place some financial restraints on the broadcast media. A ban on new radio stations, which was imposed in 2003 and was widely disregarded in practice without penalty, was lifted this year for up-country radio stations; however, it still holds for Kampala. The state broadcasters, including Radio Uganda, the only national radio station, wield considerable clout and are generally viewed as sympathetic to the government. Self-censorship is widespread. There are no official restrictions on internet access, although on February 13 the government directed Uganda Telecom to block internal access to www.radiokatwe.com, a U.S.–based website that published antigovernment gossip. Use of the internet increased during the year, with 1.7 percent of the population accessing this new media during 2006.