As the world comes together to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day held every May 3rd, journalists from Uganda too joined the celebrations held at the railway grounds in Kampala.
In the past few years, journalists have been at the centre of brutality meted out to them by security agencies especially police.
The latest incident of torture meted out to journalists by police happened two weeks ago as journalists tried to access the police disciplinary court at Naguru to cover the judgment of ASP Muhammad Kirumira.
In one incident, Galaxy FM’s Amina Nalule who is pregnant was pushed to the ground by a male police officer and efforts to save her by fellow journalists were blocked by police officers.
Police would later overpower the journalists and push them back.
This has continued to be the state of affairs for many years and for nine consecutive years and the Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) Press Freedom Index report for the year 2017 released last month emphasized the same.
“Police were responsible for 73% of the 113 cases of press freedom violation and abuses recorded in the year 2017,”reads in part the report.
According to Next Media’s Twaha Mukiibi, one of the victims of police brutality, the world press freedom day is not worth celebrating due to what he terms as ‘atrocities’ committed against members of the fourth estate.
“The police continue to harm us while in our line of duty but no one is here to come to our help,”Mukiibi says.
To many journalists, the disunity among themselves have made matters worse day by day and instead of coming together to confront the enemy, media practioners have always engaged in wars .
“It is absurd we don’t have a common voice on these violation against our fundamental rights as journalists. Something needs to be done,”Mukiibi says.
The HRNJ 2017 Press Freedom Index report also highlights a confrontation between journalists and the laws which they says are brought with a sole aim of gaging media.
The report pointed out the Computer Misuse Act 2011 and the Uganda Communications Commission Act 2016 as some of the laws that limit freedom of expression for the press.
“The Computer Misuse Act 2011, one of the laws to regulate cyber activity, contains broad and vague provisions used by both the Police and the communication regulator, UCC to curtail freedom of expression,” says the report.
“Uganda Communications Commission, in particular, has exploited sections of the law in ways that call to question the immense power it commands and legality of some of its action in a democratic dispensation.”
Last year, media houses especially televisions were ordered to stop live broadcast of the proceedings in parliament during the climax of the contentious age limit debate.
However, according to HRNJ national coordinator Robert Ssempala, despite the challenges, the world press freedom day is worth celebrating because it helps the media take stock of what is transpiring within their terrain.
“If we ever stopped celebrating it, we will have surrendered the little we have to talk home about as far as prioritizing the plight of media practioners,”Ssempala says.
He adds that there might not be a fit- all solution to the media rights violations and abuses but there is need for advocacy and build capacity to professionalize the media.
According to the speaker of parliament Rebecca Kadaga, the August house has done its role of enacting laws that promote and favour the operations of journalists around the country.
“The access to information act was a private members bill of the parliament so that rights of Ugandans to information and speech be respected,”Kadaga said.
Government spokesperson Ofwono Opondo says despite strides made by the country in observation of media rights, there are still some challenges and cases of brutality meted out on journalists by officials and employees for government.
“Government condemns its agents especially security agents who violate the rights for journalist through beating them, destroying their gadgets and any form of violation of rights for members of the fourth estate,”Opondo, who is also a journalists says.
He however implores journalists to always to always follow prescribed directives and orders to avoid clash with security agencies.