The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: Hard Times for the Press

editorial

On Monday, human rights watchdog, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative released a report with chilling findings whose bulk shows the fact that the space allowed for the media to freely inform, educate and entertain has been narrowing since 2001.

The report entitled: "Uganda: Freedom of Expression; in defence of Media Freedom in Uganda 2007" takes stock of the status of human rights in Uganda this year with special emphasis on freedom of expression.

"In practice," notes the report, "freedom of expression including the media is under threat due to legislative restriction, underlying economic and political pressure and the unfavourable working conditions for media practitioners."

As media practitioners charged with the responsibility of being the eyes and ears of the general public through playing an oversight role on government we note that indeed the legislative framework remains skewed unfavourably against the media and the right of citizens to access accurate and timely information on various matters of governance.

However, of more urgent concern is to appeal to the general public not to look at a free press as purely a responsibility of media practitioners alone.

The famous literary writer, Earnest Hemingway (1940) noted in one of his literary works curiously titled; For Whom the Bell Tolls--that it is not necessary to ask when the bell rings who it is summoning, it is summoning you.

Since 2005 Uganda has witnessed a gradual and systematic squeeze on the space available for citizens to freely express themselves largely through brutal break up of peaceful demonstrations by the police.

This is now being compounded by the upcoming law that will gazette specific zones for demonstrations. As much as regulation is not a bad idea because demonstrations affect other interests, it is important that government is not allowed to take advantage of that to squeeze people from freely expressing themselves, a non-negotiable right enshrined in the Constitution.

As the year comes to a close it is important that we note the number of freedom of speech defenders facing regular visits to the CID and the arbitrary attacks on media houses such as the case of Life FM in Fort Portal, Kabarole.

The FHRI has pointed out cases of security operatives intimidating media houses in Jinja, Iganga, Gulu, Soroti and Mbale among others.

This attack on press freedom is an attack on the whole society and it needs concerted effort from everyone to resist it.

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