Uganda Police has for the third year running been ranked the top violator of media freedoms according to the annual report released by the Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda(HRNJ- U).
The 11th edition of the Press Freedom Index Report released on Thursday afternoon at Grand Imperial Hotel in Kampala indicated that whereas there were 165 cases of violations and abuse against journalists reported in 2019, police accounted for most of these.
“Uganda Police Force (UPF) was again the biggest single violator of media rights with 101 cases (60%) of all violations. Reported cases attributed to the Police rose from 87(53%) in 2018 to 101(60%) in 2019,”the report reads in part.
The report indicated that whereas cases of assault had reduced from 37 in 2018 to 26 in 2019, there is a growing trend of violation of media freedoms by police and other security agencies.
“The most recurrent violation or abuse in 2019 was blocking access to news scenes and news sources. These cases stood at 44 in 2019 as opposed to 40 in 2018 when it was again the leading offence. It should be noted that Police and other security
agencies have increasingly tended to use blocking access to news scenes and sources as a prohibitive measure,” the report indicated.
On a number of occasions, Police has deployed heavily and also blocked journalists from accessing several news events.
In November last year, several journalists who were marching to the Police headquarters in Naguru to petition the Inspector General of Police over brutality meted out to colleagues while covering Makerere University students protests were blocked by police.
Consequently, a number of them were roughed up.
“TV share of violence stood at 46%, nearly half of all violations. Radio journalists as
victims made up 31% while online journalists stood at 16%. Print journalists were
least affected as they made up only 7%,” the report indicated.
According to the 11th annual Press Freedom Index Report , the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) was the second biggest violator of media freedoms accounting for 37 cases which translates to 22%.
“The body had in the past issued orders to close radio stations; sending tough warnings to broadcast stations against broadcasting certain content that it described as falling below minimum standards, and ordering managers to dismiss or suspend staff,” the report under the theme, “Watchdogs, braving hostility to serve,” says.
The report ranked the UPDF third with six cases which translates to 3.6% of the total number of cases reported.
The HRNJ-U, national coordinator, Robert Ssempala however expressed concern that perpetrators of the media freedom violations are not brought to book.
“The violations are in changing trends and most of the perpetrators are not brought to book. This contributes to continued impunity,”Ssempala said.
He however urged media owners to come up and join in the demand for respect for freedoms of journalists.
However, in response, ASP Cornelius Beyanga from the Human Rights Department of the police asked journalists to always report those who violate their freedoms.
“The affected journalists should go to court because that is torture. The officers will be taken on criminally.Once the case file is sanctioned, the officer is suspended,”Beyanga said.
The report recommended that individual officers should always be held accountable for their actions towards violation of journalists’ rights.
“It is recommended that the Uganda Police Force (UPF) develops standard operating procedures (SOPs) specifically to guide their officers when dealing with journalists during field operations,” the report noted.
“The Police and other security agencies should demand individual accountability of officers implicated in the violation of media rights as provided in the Human Rights (Enforcement) Act 2019. Disciplinary procedures for these errant officers should also be open and transparent.”
The report asked police to consider developing and incorporating media law in their training schools for middle lever officers.
In the past, several police commanders including former Old Kampala police station DPC Joram Mwesigye have faced the wrath of the law for assaulting journalists.