Warm greetings to you all our leaders in faith, members of parliament, development partners, area chairperson, fellow journalists, ladies and gentlemen.
Led by the Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) an umbrella body that brings together all journalists in Uganda, we are gathering here today in this joint press conference held on Wednesday May 3rd 2023 at our Home in Kawempe Municipality with other Journalists Associations; Church Of Uganda Media Association CHOUMA, Entertainment Journalists Association of Uganda EJAU, and Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Media (UPFM) in commemoration of our day, the 31st World Press Freedom Day (WPFD), anniversary, preceded by prayers by religious leaders from the Pentecostal, Anglican, Catholic, Islamic and SDA communities.
May 3rd acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives while in the line of duty.
WPFD celebrations were first officially proclaimed during the United Nations General Assembly in Windhoek Namibia 1993. The call for international calendar to observe the importance of media freedom was originally made at a meeting in Namibia when African journalists convened in partnership with UNESCO in 1991.
The international celebrations for this year are being held under the theme; “Shaping a Future of Rights: Freedom of Expression as a driver for all other human rights”.
Commemoration of the 2023 World Press Freedom Day in Uganda comes at the time of increased threats and challenges against the freedom of press including the free expression by journalists and media practitioners as enshrined under Article 29 of the 1995 constitution and Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
To start with, is multiple deaths of our dear colleagues in profession who passed on between January 2023 and April this year. These included Quraish Nsamba former journalist with Bukedde Tv who experienced a sudden death on 24th January 2023 while in the field , having left his residence for work without any reported sickness , Edward Muhumuza- Ntv Uganda who perished in a deadly road accident along Entebbe Express Way in Wakiso district and Denis Blair Kalanzi- UBC who passed away on 25th March 2023 after battling with sickness for quite long. Let us stand up and observe a moment of silence in recognition of their great contribution to our journalism profession before their death. May their souls rest in peace.
Threats and challenges against journalism in Uganda;
1. We are deeply concerned with blatant violation of journalist’s rights in form of torture, detentions, beating and threatening by members of security forces. During the months of March and April 2023 alone, journalist Andrew Arinaitwe with the New Vision was arrested by the police in pursuit of the story. He was arrested from Kings College Buddo as he investigated a story never its favor, placed before Nsangi Magistrate court before he was released on bail later.
– On 12th April 2023, journalists based in Busia town were badly beaten by the army officers attached to the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) as they covered an operation against commuter taxi drivers in Busia taxi park that exposed the institution. Journalists’ cameras were impounded too.
– Around the same time, journalists Thomas Kitimbo and Francis Isano were sprayed with paper spray by a police officer identified as CPL Ogwal Yeeko as they performed their noble duty around Mulago Hospital.
– At the end of the same month, journalist Duis Walugembe with an online you tube site the Gossip Truth was arrested by the police and detained at Katwe police station for 3 days before he was later released on bond. He had been arrested on allegations of publishing a story that was not in the favor of one city pastor, Ronnie McBay. His arrest followed threats by some police officers at Katwe police station whose names are withheld. The same officers are still threatening that journalist.
– Other online site journalists; Mugerwa Nicholas with Kookie Promotions, Massembe Erimia- ME Media, Eddy – Eidos Media, Ibrahim Bossa- Twaique Media and Mateega Shadic Smith – Celeb Jazz are being hunted and threatened by the same officers at Katwe police station for and with arrest. This has not only posed serious threat to journalism profession in Uganda but also putting their life in danger. We feel that it is wrong for police officers to continue issuing threats to journalists and therefore it must stop immediately.
2. We are also bothered by the unceasing violation of the journalist’s economic rights by some employers with impunity. Some do not pay their workers even when it is a requirement of the law under article 40 of the constitution. As we speak now, over 40 journalists with SEE TV have spent more than 12 months without receiving wage payment from their employer. On failing to clear their arrears, the owner of that station has now resorted to sell it out. UJA had formally drawn this matter to attention of the line ICT minister honorable Chris Baryomunsi who has since then done nothing to salvage the situation. Thank God for the chairperson of Uganda Parliamentary Forum on Media honorable Teddy Nambooze who responded positively to move the matter before parliament for further action after learning that journalists were planning to stage nationwide protests.
– In December 2022, more than 9 journalists with Success Radio based in Kyanja-Kampala, were sacked after protesting starvation of their wage payment for more than five months. This situation nearly resulted into death of a sick journalist there, Benah Nantumbwe who failed to finance her health care, because she was denied her salary in arrears totaling more than 5 million shillings. Had it not been for good Samaritans intervention, Nantumbwe would not be alive today, although she is gradually recovering. This matter was also brought to the attention of the line minister honorable Baryomunsi but nothing much was done by his ministry to help those demanding journalists.
We have received complaints from more than 200 journalists between January 2022 and May 3 2023 with cases of economic exploitation and reported with relevant authorities but in vain.
3. Poor welfare of journalists in Uganda remains a matter of concern in the way that it has pushed many journalists to get compromised and turn into extortionists as a way out for survival.
4. Facebook as one of the new media spaces for free speech and expression of public views by the members of public including journalists remains in closure by the government, which limits the flow of information.
Considering the above, we therefore feel that journalists cannot perform well their watchdog role over the rest of actors as eyes and ears of the society with independent expression freely, which undermines realization of building an independent media which is a cornerstone to a democratic society.
Also suffice to note is that, the above concerns have been raised time and again with all relevant authorities- state and non-state actors to act with necessary solutions, but nothing has ever changed. This is the reason as to why we have opted for observing spiritual prayers with our spiritual leaders that God may touch hearts of powers that be, to act with positive impactful decisions and responses.