The Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) has reported a rise in cases of brutality against journalists in line of duty blaming it especially on the police.
According the Robert Ssempala, the national coordinator for HRNJ, 32 cases have been received by the media rights organization in the past two months with a fear that several other cases could have gone unreported.
Ssempala who was speaking to PML Daily on the sidelines of the Safety and Security training for journalists which ended this Friday at Green Gardens Mbale said journalists in the country have recently faced tough times in line of duty especially while covering the sidelined land amendment bill and the contentious constitutional Amendment bill.
He said there is also a lot of infringement on media freedom and the limitation of working environment due to restrictions and limitations levied by state agencies like the police, state house and Uganda Communication Commission.
“Journalists across the country have of recent faced a lot of political interference during their work and in that line many have suffered injuries and lost equipment during the process,” Sempala noted.
HRNJ Uganda reports that two television journalists were assaulted and their gadgets confiscated on September 13, while they covered an anti-age limit rally organised by the Democratic Party in Entebbe. On September 20, police arrested and detained five journalists who were covering a press conference organised by youth to protest the age limit removal. They were released without charge.
The media rights defender organization also named as infringing the closure of Kitara Broadcasting Cooperation and Kanungu Broadcasting Cooperation as well as the police questioning of Red Pepper and Daily Monitor editors.
Ssempala said the summonses are meant to entrench fear in media houses and journalists that cover critical issues.
“As the media we have to stand firm and defend ourselves,” he told PML Daily.
Article 29 (1) (a) of the Constitution provides for every person’s right to ‘freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media’ while Article 41(1) states that every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person.
However, the HRNJ National Coordinator says that recent media coverage on dissenting views like the Age Limit Bill has seen the media being criminalized by state agencies.
Ssempala now says media practitioners should act more professionally in order to leave no traces for adversaries to infringe on their work which he said would also leave perpetrators with little explanation for beating journalists or confiscate their equipments.
Julius Esegu, the board chairperson HRNJ has meanwhile cautioned journalists across the country to be mindful of their safety while in line of duty.
He saidt with a number of incidents showing that a section of security personnel in the country have disparities in their work, journalists should make safety a priority.
“A person who leaves the battle in time lives to fight another day, so as media practitioners know that there is no story worth your life,” Esegu said.
He, however, said media freedom organization like HRNJ are also ‘putting up a strong fight’ to see that journalism practice in Uganda get enough space and respect.
“The times of impunity are long gone and as media rights defenders we are in fight to see that perpetrators are put to book so that our mandate as the 4th estate is exercised without limitations,” Esegu said.