As Ugandans are still awash with events and activities, that marked World Freedom Day celebrations on Friday, one would not miss to point internet shutdown, as one of the elements that suffocates press freedom in Uganda and a number of African countries.
During a panel discussion at Kampala’s Golf Course Hotel, panelists concurred that internet shut down during elections in Uganda, has not only violated media freedom but also denied Ugandans the right to information.
“Governments in Africa have ordered internet network disruptions in the last four years, mainly during elections. Authoritarian regimes are known for internet shutdowns, to deny populations access to information”, said Dr Wakabi Wairagala, a Human Rights Activist.
He cited Uganda, Burundi and Rwanda as examples of East African countries that have shut down internet during election times.
“This year alone, countries in Africa that ordered internet shut down include; Algeria, Congo Brazzaville, Ethiopia, Malawi, Zimbabwe and DR Congo”, he said.
He said these countries have ranked low on World Freedom Day index and that Uganda is likely to experience internet shut down during 2021 elections.
Ibrahim Bbosa, Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) Head of International Public Relations, in a bid to defend Government said: “There is no reason why internet services can be denied to the public during elections. But if media misinforms the public, through character assassination of other individuals, there is a provision in the Uganda Penal Code that punishes such actions. For us in UCC, Internet shut down is the only approach”.
He said decisions at UCC to shut down or close any media house are done by a team of professionals and that; the UCC CEO, Godfrey Mutabazi is only the “chief spokesman” of the commission’s decisions.
A heated debate ensued, when NBS TV Journalist, Charles Odongtho tasked the UCC mouthpiece to point out a legal provision in the UCC Act that authorises the media regulator to suspend editors and journalists.
In defence, Bbosa said: “It’s true that some of the decisions we take may not be liked by the people. The enabling laws are insufficient and we still need to re-adjust”.
Robert Sempala, Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ Uganda) executive director said: “UCC has no right to decide which news items should be aired or written by media houses, as this is the job of editors”.