KAMPALA – The government has told off media owners and journalists affected by the directive to suspend editors at several media houses, to seek redress in the courts of law, arguing that Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) is carrying out its mandate.
The statement was issued by Chris Baryomunsi, State Minister for Housing on Thursday, during the plenary sitting while responding to the latest state crackdown by UCC that ordered suspension of 39 journalists from 13 media saying that the live broadcast that the television and radio stations relayed were breaching broadcasting standards.
Mr. Baryomunsi said: “Government is committed to ensure we observe freedoms but we have institutions mandated to do their work. The persons affected are free to go to court and challenge UCC if [orders]given are outside the law. But we do respect the rights of media practitioners.”
The remarks followed a complaint raised by Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda (Kira Municipality) who informed Parliament that Uganda’s global ranking on media freedoms have dropped to the 125th position from 117 the nation held in 2017 and Uganda’s drop in position was blamed on tax of usage on social media (OTT), arrest and beating journalists and most recently switching off transmitters that were hosting FDC leaders.
Mr. Ssemujju argued; “Tomorrow is going to be World Press Freedom Day and as we approach the Executive Director of UCC has issued a draconian order to suspend journalists that were covering the arrest of Bobi Wine live and he wants 13 media stations to suspend senior journalists. A country that is battering journalists can only attract fortune hunters not tourists. We want the Minister to come here and brief Parliament on steps taken on improving outlook as a country.”
Mr. Ssemujju also argued that at the moment, tourism is Uganda’s main earner of tourist exchange and it would be wastage of funds if Government spent funds marketing the nation and the negative coverage of abuse of media freedoms are detrimental to the country’s image.
He asked the Minister of Internal Affairs to prevail over and issue sanctions against individual actors that are soiling Uganda’s image through battering of journalists and also requested Government to prevail over the overzealous employees to stop issuing these crazy directives and reverse the order demanding particular journalists to be suspended.
However, Mr. Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala County) protested the decision to have Mr. Baryomunsi speak on media freedoms yet there is a substantive minister of ICT, Frank Tumwebaze to explain actions of UCC.
“As Parliament, our mandate is to defend, accord and protect the constitution. If UCC is abusing the law, it is the mandate of parliament to hold it accountable. May you request the substantive minister to make a statement instead of a half hazard statement of which it isn’t his docket and isn’t conversant with matter at hand,” said Muwanga.
Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah argued that Parliament’s mandate is to audit the performance of institutions on their mandates and functions; “If there is a violation, excessive behaviour, I don’t think that falls within parliament’s mandate. If someone has violated their mandate, it can’t be parliament to correct it.”