Now, it appears the government wants to go much further, at least judging by a leaked copy of cabinet-approved principles for a bill amending the 1995 Press and Journalist Act.
The proposal would introduce new licensing conditions for newspapers, invigorate the rather moribund Media Council, and empower the council to punish media outlets. Especially disturbing is section 5.1.8, which aims:
To amend the existing Act to create offences and penalties against media houses that publish material prejudicial to national security, stability, and unity, or utterances that are injurious to Uganda’s relations with her neighbors or friendly countries or utterance and publish materials that tantamount to [sic] economic sabotage. [Bold in the original]
In an interview in January, Minister of Information and National Guidance Kabakumba Masiko told me the bill aims to ensure that journalists are penalized if they “are going to injure or give information that will cause instability that will affect our economy.”
of “economic sabotage” by the media are nothing new in
independent journalists scrutinizing the government and oil multinationals over
their Production Sharing Agreements (PSA) are already facing problems. Monitor reporter Richard Wanambwa said
he received over a
January 3 that cited a
leaked report on alleged oil deal irregularities. In February, a magistrate
dismissed a freedom
of information petition on oil deals that was filed by Monitor journalists
In a country where much of the national budget comes from foreign aid, donor criticism over Museveni’s handling of the media has put the state in a difficult bind: How does it to maintain the illusion of a press that is wholly free while ensuring that underlying regime and economic interests are secured? The government’s stance appears to be one of freedom for the media in exchange for their implicit collaboration. Minister Masiko echoed this sentiment in a Monitor article in January when commenting on the government’s ongoing ban of prominent broadcaster Central Broadcasting Services (CBS). She said, “As a government, we are willing to forget and forgive if the CBS management is cooperative.”
The bill, in the context of the ongoing suspension of CBS, a ban on popular debate programs, and prosecutions of journalists, has many concerned that with election season about to begin in earnest, further clampdowns and repressive measures will be taken. In an interview with The Independent, Masiko dismissed such concerns. “We are trying to streamline the operations of the media,” she said.
Many journalists fear the only thing the government wants to streamline is penalizing the news media for loosely defined offenses.
Despite the ruling NRM’s party’s 24 years in power, attempts to
rid the country of corruption and patronage have proved largely unsuccessful.
The proposed amendments seem to be worryingly in line with Freedom
Ariel Rubin is a
freelance journalist who recently relocated to