The Federation of African Journalists (FAJ), the African Regional Organisation of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), today strongly criticized the Press and Journalists Bill in Uganda on the grounds that it is unsound and constitutes a major stumbling block to press freedom and democratic standards in the country.
According to Uganda Journalists Union (UJU), an affiliate of FAJ and IFJ, the proposed bill has several draconian, autocratic and vaguely worded articles and clauses which will restrict severely freedom of the media and the right of journalists to provide impartial, independent and credible information to Ugandan people ahead of elections.
Under the bill, which is currently in the cabinet, newspapers would require to renew their licenses annually and will also be barred from publishing “material that is detrimental to national security, stability and unity or any matters injurious to Uganda’s relations with its neighbors and friends as well as news that amounts to economic sabotage”.
“This bill contains dangerous provisions which could curtail press freedom in Uganda and exert excessive pressure on the exercise of professional journalism in Uganda,” said Omar Faruk Osman, FAJ President. “We support the protests by the journalism community in Uganda against the unprecedented threat to independent-minded journalists and critical newspapers”.
The FAJ says the Ugandan media community has been very actively addressing the challenges facing their freedom to receive and impart information without intimidation, but the Ugandan government chose not to carry out consultations with media stakeholders and civil society groups while drafting the new law.
“We demand the Ugandan government to suspend this Bill and allow a dialogue with journalists and media houses, based on fundamentals standards of freedom of expression,” Omar Faruk added. “We are concerned that, if passed in its current form, these ill-defined clauses in this bill will be used as instruments of repression”.
The FAJ has been campaigning for the implementation of the principles of press freedom stipulated in Windhoek Declaration on Media Independence and Pluralism on the African continent. The move of Ugandan government would threaten these principles of press freedom if the Press and Journalists (Amendment) Bill 2010 is enacted.
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The FAJ represents over 50,000 journalists in 36 countries in Africa