On 10 February 2014, the Minister of Information, Rose Namayanaja , has signed the entry into force of a law in the national media referred to as Press and Journalists Fee Regulation 2014.
The Act makes it obligatory for every journalist to register in a specific professional body , the National Institue of Jounalists in Uganda – NIJU obtaining a professional license renewable on an annual basis . The NIJU is look similar to other professional bodies existing in Uganda like the ones for doctors , architects , lawyers, notaries and teachers. The objective is to regulate the profession of the journalist who must follow specific ethical codes of conduct. So far nothing strange.
The new professional body , if properly used and supported by a close collaboration with the University , can improve the professionalism of journalists avoinding harmful behaviors directed to promote political ideologies of ethnic hatred and genocide , sensitive and often disastrous argoments in the Great Lakes Region. Dramatically is still alive the memory of the first private radio network in Rwanda : Radio Mille Collines, known by the name of Radio Machete, which was the main media tool for spreading the ideology of racial superiority HutuPower and the most effective tool for coordinating the activities during the 100 days of the African Holocaust in 1994.
The problem is that the NIJU is not an institution made up of journalists , as are those for doctors , lawyers, etc. . The NIJU is formed by University professors of journalism who have never practiced the profession and politically affiliated to the National Revolutionary Movement NRM the party founded by President Yoweri Museveni author of the liberation war of 80s and in power since 1987.
The NIJU introduces a thin financial discrimination , establishing the annual membership fee to 350,000 Ugandan shillings ( € 106 ) , a considerable sum in Uganda considering that the average payment for an article published varies from 15,000 to 25,000 shillings ( 4.5 to 7.5 EUR ) on which the journalist must deduct taxes. The majority of Ugandan journalists are not employed full time by the national media who prefer to use freelancers for obvious reasons of economic saving . This makes the profession highly precarious and unstable from the point of view of financial sustainability.
The payment of annual dues must be done to NIJU but not to another government agency : the Uganda Media Council formed by 13 members : five directly chosen by the Ministry of Information, four from public institutions controlled by NRM, one represented the Society of Lawyers of Uganda and two from the NIJU.
Uganda Media Council mandate is to mediate between journalists , media and Government in the event of disputes. The organization is notorious for being controlled by the NRM, playing the mediator role totally partisan way in favor of the Government. The organization also implements an insurmountable financial barrier to the detriment of journalists and the media: to lodge a complaint against abuses carried out by the government it’s obligatory to pay a small fee of 10,000 shillings ( € 03 ) but to get a judgment (positive or negative ) on the litigation must pay $ 2,000.
The Press and Journalist Fees Regulation 2014 has been the subject of harsh criticism of George William Lugalambi, former Director of the Department of Mass Communications at the University of Makerere University and from the Director of the weekly The Independent Andrew M. Muwenda , known as “the Old Man of the clan of journalists“, both highest authorities of the information industry in Uganda .
Lugalambi and Muwenda note that the membership roll of journalists must be voluntary and not mandatory and recommended the Government to work together and not against journalists . Impose mandatory enrollment inscriptions that are financially burdensome will have the effect of reducing the number of journalists , forcing them to pay in order to continue working.
Peter Mwesige Director of the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME ) has invited journalists to Ugandan rebel against this new law warning them that their independence is put in serious jeopardy .
NIJU and the Uganda Media Council are not the only entities to control the media. There is a third entity created by the Government : the Uganda Media Centre, which has a mandate to monitor the activities of journalists and propose disciplinary measures. Even the police have created a special department : Media Crimes Department, a powerful weapon to control information.
“I cannot understand the position of the Government. It seems that it doesn’t appreciate the role of the media. It seems that the Government is afraid of journalists and tends to hinder the freedom of information guaranteed by the Constitution instead of promoting it as it should do ” Peter Mwesige said in a recent interview with The Independent.
The Press and Journalist Fees Regulation 2014 has not been subjected to the necessary parliamentary debate, following the dangerous habit to go directly to the voting of any bill without debate. A ploy to pass the law already presented to Parliament in January 2010 and July 2012. On both occasions the law was frozen thanks to national and international criticism.
The history of parliamentary procedure of the Press and Journalist Fees Regulation 2014 reveals undemocratic tactics adopted by the NRM . The first is to withdraw any proposed law in face to the evidence of strong opposition, avoiding that the Parlament can reject the proposal. The goal is to freeze any controversial law awaiting more propitious moments, as it was in the case of anti-gay originally known as Kill the Gay Bill , a proposal designed for the first time in 2009. The second tactic , which was inaugurated by the President Parliament Rebecca Kadaga on the occasion of anti-gay and anti- pornography law (known as anti-miniskirt law), consist to approve the proposal law without parliamentary debate and without the quorum required to hold parliamentary voting .
The trend to impose decisions from the Top is involving other sensitive areas of national political and economic life like the law for minimum wage currently under study . This law is likely to be the result of a gift from President Museveni and not a negotiation with the union counterpart .
The Press and Journalist Fees Regulation 2014 is the latest in a long series of media laws passed by the NRM since 1995. On 28 July 1995, eight years after the liberation of Uganda by the dictatorial regime of Milton Obote, was passed in the first of these laws : the Press and Journalist ACT with the aim of ensuring the freedom of the press and provide the country with a regulatory agency of the mass media . The law, unjustly accused of being a tool of repression of press freedom , actually favored the freedom of expression in the country which for 25 years had been denied by the murderous regimes of Obote and Idi Amin Dada . The restrictive rules applicable to the legislative text were deemed necessary to stop the common practice of disinformation and promotion of ethnic hatred accomplished by media close to rebel Lord’s Resistance Army or Genocide ideologies. The Electronic Media Act, was enacted July 21, 1996 to regulate the licensing of radio and television stations, monitoring their activities. Its aim was to prevent the birth of average genocide medias on the model of those in Rwanda on 1994. They were the subsequent laws that reverse the trend and put at risk the press freedom.
On 19 September 1997, the Uganda Communications Act, which officially liberalized the communication industry, in reality blocked access of opposition parties to the media. The law was strengthened September 15, 2000 , six months before the presidential elections of 15 March 2001, where Museveni was the winner with 69% of the vote.
In 2007, the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative FHRI called this law a serious attempt to criminalize the media and their information activities and an attack on people’s right to access to free information . To increase these risks now comes the Press and Journalist Fees Regulation 2014.
Although clearly is the work of restriction of freedom of information implemented by the government that must stop, it should be pointed out the heavy dose of information immaturity that various national media have shown in the last ten years. Media such as NTV Uganda and the Daily Monitor ( belonging to Aga Khan financial Empire ) did not hesitate to spread news distorted or completely false in favor of the opposition during the opposition Museveni – Kizza Besyge during the post-election period of 2011 (January-April 2012), for example increasing the number of participants in the rallies done by General Besyge, exaggerating acts of brutality committed by the police and minimizing or ignoring acts of vandalism and looting organized by Holligans hired by the opposition.
Lately, NTV Uganda has choose to be linked to the anti-gay lobby, becoming a media tool of pressure against President Museveni who had initially refused to sign the law against homosexuality. From 22 December to February 14 ( the date of signing of the Act) NTV Uganda daily ensured within its evening news homophobic services often based on biased news if not invented with the aim to make the people believe that Uganda had been invaded by a horde of gays bloodthirsty and pedophiles.
The well-known tabloid Red Pepper, after the passage of the anti-gay , published the famous list of 100 Ugandans gay thus putting at risk their lives and entering in the list several heterosexuals, victims of political score-settling .
The drive to partisan information and misinformation is even more pronounced between Ugandans social media and blogs that sometimes , become veritable factory of false news out of control. This misbehavior is pushing the Government to investigate methods of web repression and censure with serious harm to Ugandan bloggers and discussion forums really serious that exist on the web.
Inappropriate behavior and attempts at misinformation as well as being harmful to the democratic development of the country, are pushing the Government to more rigid positions preventing dialogue and peaceful confrontation with the media.
Media and journalists in Uganda are still in the adolescent period , after 35 years of repression ranging from independence to the first period of the party joined the Marxist model of Museveni ( 1987-1997 ), passing through two dictatorships : Obote and Idi Amin. In addition to the big names in journalism Uganda : Andrew Mwenda , Robert Kabushenga , Paul Kihika , Agnes Asiimwe Konde , James Tumisiime , Alex Asiimwe and Richar Tusiime , a new generation of journalists is struggling to position themselves on correct information following the Anglo-Saxon model more neutral than the model proposed by information of the Latin and Europe countries.
Some media have reached the necessary maturity as The Indepedent , The Observer ( Catholic weekly ) and Bukedde ( The Dawn ) Radio TV network and newspaper of the King of Buganda . The Aga Khan medias (Daily Monitor and NTV- Uganda) are obviously biased and married the crusade against Museveni because of economic disputes between the Ugandan President and Mr. Aga Khan. Others, such as Red Pepper, oscillate between the disinformation to the accurate journalism complaints. Inside of government media : Vision Group and UBC TV is witnessing a gradual journalistic independence that tends to break away from the role so far played of propaganda tool for the party in power.
The Ugandan society is constantly changing. The country is facing the delicate transition from underdeveloped country t to a regional power with serious risks of regression if not well managed. National Revolutionary Movement and the Ugandan medias, if will not be able to understand and follow the metamorphosis taking place, are likely to become obsolete and harmful national actors.
If President Museveni must relax, interrupting the ominous thought of considering the media as antagonists and source of danger, in turn, the majority of the media and journalists in Uganda have to access to the adult stage as some of them have already done.
The risk is that the information in Uganda will remains as described by the motto of the weekly The Independent directed by Andrew Mwenda: “You buy the truth, we pay the price.” This situation, of course, is totally detrimental to the freedom of information and the slow strengthening of the democratic process under way in Uganda.