The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has been dragged to court over its recent order asking a number of media houses to suspend several staff members.
UCC in an April 30 communication, ordered a number of media houses including; NBS TV, NTV, Salt TV, BBS TV, Bukedde TV, Kingdom TV, Capital FM, CBS FM, Simba FM, Pearl FM, Akaboozi FM, Beat FM, and Sapientia FM, to suspend their producers, head of news and head of programs or else they risk sanctions.
In a petition filed on Thursday, two lawyers including; Ronald Bwire and Henry Byansi have asked the civil division of the High Court in Kampala to declare the directive by UCC as being a breach of the fundamental human rights.
Describing themselves as human rights activists, ardent believers and advocates of the rule of law and constitutionalism in Uganda, the duo says UCC didn’t act fairly when it ordered the suspension of several journalists yet it is mandated by law to act fairly and justly.
“The respondent (UCC) through the aforesaid directives seeks to arbitrarily gag the media, curtail free speech and freedom of expression, impose unconstitutional limitations and blanket bans on the media which are not acceptably and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society and what is provided for under the Constitution and the law,” the two lawyers say in their petition.
“The aforesaid directives interfere with editorial freedom and independence of the media by purporting to set arbitrary and unconstitutional standards which are neither enshrined in the Constitution nor in the laws of Uganda generally.”
The petitioners say the directives by UCC infringe on media houses and journalists’ rights to be heard, presumption of innocence and a right to equality before and under the law.
The duo also says the UCC directives infringe on the journalists’ right to practice their profession and the right to fair and just administrative treatment.
“The respondent’s actions complained of are discriminatory in nature, highhanded, oppressive, arbitrary, illegal and a contravention of the Constitution and the law generally.”
In the petition, the two lawyers say they want court to declare orders by Uganda Communications Commission illegal, biased, highhanded, irrational, unfair and thus null and void.
They say if court does not declare so, the rights of several journalists will continue to be trampled upon by the communication regulator.
“The court should issue an order of injunction restraining the respondent and its officials, representatives and agents and/or servants from proceeding to take any action against the said media houses concerning the impugned directives,” the duo say.
“Unless restrained by this honourable court, the respondent (UCC) will freeze and stagnate the citizen’s right to information, freedom of propagation and inter-change of ideas, dissemination of information which is very essential in enlightening and educating the public, the formation of citizen’s opinion, viewpoint and debates on matters of public concern.”
The petition comes at a time when the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) asked UCC to rescind its orders.
NAB Chairman Kin Kariisa said in the letter addressed to UCC Executive Director Dr Godfrey Mutabazi, that such an action would have a detrimental effect on the quality of journalism in the country.
Kariisa urged UCC instead to set a date for the broadcasters and the regulatory body to meet and discuss the concerns that prompted UCC’s order.