Uganda | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Uganda

Uganda

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

53

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

20

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

13

Although the constitution provides for freedom of expression, laws enacted in the name of national security, including the Press and Media Law of 1995 and the Antiterrorism Act of 2002, have negated many of these constitutional provisions in practice. Following persistent protests from the media industry, the government has agreed to begin the process of amending some of these laws. Yet in October, three journalists working for the Monitor, a popular private newspaper, were arrested and charged with sedition in relation to a story alleging that soldiers were secretly trained as policemen in order to keep the police forces under military control. Several statutes, most notably the Press and Media Law, also require journalists to be licensed and meet certain standards like the possession of a diploma in journalism. The law further requires journalists to renew their licenses each year, though this provision is frequently overlooked. Uganda is one of only three countries on the continent with a Freedom of Information law.

Continuing a trend seen in 2006, journalists were harassed, intimidated, and censored in Uganda in 2007, and punishment of the perpetrators of these incidents was rare. In March, the Ugandan Journalists Association (UJA) called for the government to protect journalists covering court cases from opposition groups and critical demonstrations and to end police harassment of these reporters. This push by the UJA came after two separate cases of police brutality against journalists working for the state-owned New Vision—Chris Ahimbisibwe, a reporter, and Richard Semakula, a photographer—while covering cases in regional high courts. In October, Life FM, a private radio station in southwest Uganda, was forced off the air for five days after unknown assailants poured acid on its transmitter in an attack believed to have been prompted by a program critical of the local government. A rival station had earlier dropped the same program after a meeting with local security officials. However, it was the official media regulator, the Broadcasting Council (BC), which was primarily responsible for government efforts to censor the media. In late January, Nation Television Uganda went off the air after officials at the BC switched off the station’s transmitter and confiscated its network receivers for alleged “noncompliance withthe industry’s technical standards.” The station was able to return to the air in April. Similarly, in August, the BC suspended a presenter of the popular Capital FM radio station for alleged violation of the “minimum broadcasting standards.” During a show in which the station hosted a lesbian activist who used what the BC considered to be “unacceptable language,” the suspended host said he had “no problem” with homosexuality while the other two presenters opposed it.

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; 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 widely disregarded in practice without penalty, was lifted in 2007 for upcountry radio stations; however, it still holds for the capital, Kampala. The state broadcasters, including Radio Uganda, the only national radio station, wield considerable clout and are generally viewed as sympathetic to the government. Nonetheless, the state-run print media have gained a reputation for editorial independence despite the fact that many of their top editors are selected by government officials. In fact, the state paper New Vision has reported critically about the government so regularly that the president has on occasion threatened to fire the paper’s editors. There are no official restrictions on access to international broadcasting services or the internet. Internet use became more popular during the year, with over 6 percent of the population accessing it in 2007.