Uganda: Court Halts Media Council Registration of Journalists

19 January 2021

By Juliet Kigongo

The High Court in Kampala yesterday quashed with costs the directives by the Media Council that required journalists to register to cover the ongoing General Election and other State events.

Presiding judge Esta Nambayo also issued a permanent injunction against the Media Council to immediately cease from registering journalists as planned due to lack of legal mandate and that its orders were irrational.

"An order of ... . Is issued quashing the illegal registration and accreditation of journalists to cover the 2021 General Eection and other State events by the Media Council of Uganda for being illegal, irrational and procedurally irregular," Justice Nambayo ruled.

The judge further declared that the registration of journalists by the Media Council of Uganda without an operational National Institute of Journalists of Uganda to enroll journalists in accordance with the Press and Journalists Act is illegal.

On December 31 last year, journalists under their association of the Editors' Guild Uganda alongside the Center for Public Interest Law, petitioned court, citing the lack of legal mandate by the Media Council to issue the said directives, fearing that the same would fundamentally infringe on the rights of freedom of expression in the country.

The Media Council, a government body that regulates the conduct and promotion of good ethical standards and discipline of journalists, had in its press statement released on December 10, 2020, demanded that for any journalist either local or foreign to cover the ongoing general elections, they must have been accredited.

The media regulatory body also reasoned that the accreditation of journalists was for their own safety especially as they cover elections.

What journalists say

However, the journalists in their lawsuit, said if these directives were to be left unchallenged, they would have opened a floodgate of brutality against them by security personnel.

They had further argued that the press plays a fundamental role in dissemination of information especially in these ongoing scientific elections and that if they were subjected to the illegal mandatory accreditation, the public would miss out on vital information.

Mr Daniel Kalinaki, the General Manager Editorial at Nation Media Group-Uganda with over 23 years of experience in journalism, had in his affidavit to support the issuance of the injunctive orders by court, reasoned that the directive to register all journalists before they are permitted to cover any election and other state events barely a month to the ongoing polls, was irrational.

Mr Kalinaki, who doubles as the interim chairperson of the Editor's Guild, had further argued that as a media manager, he knows that journalists have a responsibility and mandate to cover election activities in all the constituencies across the country and that they are mandated to send out journalists to gather information regarding the electoral process for publication.

He had also castigated the Media Council of attempting to enforce the aforementioned guidelines and yet they lack quorum as it's not fully constituted, an argument the judge agreed with him.

Mr Francis Gimara, the lawyer who represented the journalists in court, welcomed the court's decision, saying the same is consistent with the rule of law.

"The court's decision is consistent with the rule of law that public bodies should exercise their mandate within the four corners that it was set up with,"Mr Gimara said last evening.

He added: "If the said public bodies go against the same, they are subject to judicial review. We continue to appeal to statutory bodies to always conform to the rule of law."

Likewise, Ms Catherine Anite, a freedom of expression expert, said the Media Council has been acting with impunity against the media fraternity and that she believes the court decision is a starting point for reforming the media operational environment.

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