The Ugandan government has presented a law which, if passed, will ban journalists from entering parliament with electric gadgets in the latest move to limit press freedom in the East African nation, which is currently grappling with a worsening economic distress.
According to the new parliamentary rules of procedure, journalists are barred from accessing the parliamentary press gallery with electronic gadgets such as recorders, phones, laptops ad cameras.
During the debate on the new rules, the deputy Speaker of parliament, Jacob Oulanyah who also subscribes to the ruling National Resistance Movement party, said that law makers need to maintain their privacy while in the chambers. “We need our privacy..press cameras will expose our privacy,” he said.
However, the journalists under their umbrella body of Uganda parliamentary press association reacted angrily, saying that they are only meant to erode media freedom in the country.
“It seems parliamentarians are keen to ensure that they deny the media space under the guise of protecting their privacy” said UPPA President, Agnes Nandutu.
The journalists body has since declared that the law makers are 'enemies of journalism'. According to Nandutu, Oulanyah exhibited bias as he presided over the debate and shot down several arguments in support of the media.
Nandutu told a press conference at parliament that the association members had resolved to blacklist the MPs who engineered the rejection of the media friendly proposal because they were the enemies of the media freedom.
“Parliament conducts work on behalf of the voters to whom it must remain accountable, and this can only be done by the media who are the eyes and ears of voters,” said Human Rights Network for Journalists program Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.
“We therefore call upon the MPs to reconsider the proposal and pass it in order to bring the parliament closer to the voters who can only follow it through the media.”
The Press Freedom Index Report 2011, titled Shrinking and Sinking released last month by the Human Rights Network of Journalists revealed that in 2011 alone, 107 journalists were either tortured by security agencies or had their equipment confiscated or destroyed.
Uganda has slipped 43 places to 139th position in the latest press freedom rankings by Reporters Without Borders.
According to a report accompanying the rankings, many countries, including Uganda, fell in 2011 due to increased government crackdown on public protests. The media were thus also targetted as the security services sought to stop especially broadcast reporters from filming the demonstrations. Following the press release on 25th January 2012.
The safety and security of journalists in Uganda remains frail with many murdered, subjected to arbitrary arrests and torture, intimidation and harassment among other untold suffering at the hands of the authorities. According to HRNJ press index report’
This week, Ugandan police officers attacked three journalists as they covered the release on bail of jailed opposition leader Kizze Besigye
Also five journalists and one lawyer have been roughed up by police in a space of one week following the resumption of opposition inspired protests against steep food prices and inflation. This has prompted journalists to threaten a boycott police activities in the city, according to Mr Mulindwa Mukasa the Executive Board Chairperson of (HRNJ-Uganda).
“These are the same people that claim that we have a cordial relationship with them. We rather not have any relationship at all if cordial to them means beating and kicking us around.” He said
According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, police attacked the journalists as Besigye was leaving court where he had faced charges of organising an opposition demonstration last week in which a police officer was killed.
"Ugandan police are engaged in a cynical cycle in which they beat journalists covering opposition events, apologise afterward, and then repeat their unacceptable behavior," said CPJ East Africa Consultant Tom Rhodes. "Top police officials must send a clear message that they will not tolerate violence against the press and will hold their subordinates responsible for unprofessional and criminal behavior."