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Uganda: Newspapers re-open but under strict conditions

Article 19

01 June 2013

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the re-opening of two newspapers and two radio stations in Uganda following their closure by the police more than a week ago.

ARTICLE 19 is deeply concerned, however, about a number of conditions that have been set for these media during negotiations with the government that restrict their freedom to operate without governmental oversight. The terms agreed by the media organisations compromise their independence and will prevent reporting on matters that may be deemed to be critical of the government.

Operations at Monitor Publications, Red Pepper Publications and the associated radio stations KFM and Dembe FM were suspended on 20 May 2013 as police searched for a letter at the heart of a political row in the country. The Daily Monitor, the most widely read independent newspaper in Uganda, had published a letter that alleged President Yoweri Museveni was grooming his son for succession and that opponents to the succession would be assassinated. The Red Pepper newspaper reported these allegations.

“We are concerned about allegations that these media houses have been coerced into agreeing on very strict conditions to continue working. They were forced into a corner by the government, which is attempting to silence public debate about matters of great public importance” said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.

On Thursday, 30th May 2013, the Minister for Internal Affairs Eng. Hilary Onek issued two statements directing the re-opening of the media organisations. The Minister said that the management teams of these organisations had agreed on some conditions with the Government, including that they would meet periodically with the Government to ensure those agreements are respected and implemented.

ARTICLE 19 finds coercing the media organisations into these agreements as highly problematic as they render de facto control of the Government over the media. Although some of the terms of the agreement are commitments to respect journalistic codes of ethics, ARTICLE 19 notes that the Government should have no oversight over their enforcement.

“When it is the government that determines whether the media is complying with their professional standards, there is a real danger of censorship. A healthy society is one where people are able to exercise their right to freedom of expression through a free and independent media. International law protects the right to debate openly matters of public importance, and that includes views that may be critical to those who hold power. Self-regulation of the press is the best way to guarantee freedom of expression” added Mr. Maina.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Ugandan government to abide by international human rights standards and to respect the right to freedom of expression. The authorities must stop intimidating journalists and media outlets and to allow them to continue their work without interference.

For a detailed press statement from the Minister for Internal Affairs directing the re-opening of the media organisations click here.