Legal Framework

The Millennium Development Goals 2001 (MDG) have the promotion of gender equality and empowerment of women as goal number three. Uganda is a signatory to the MDG and has put in place mechanisms like the PEAP to address poverty eradication. Since 1997, for instance the Poverty Eradication Action Plan (PEAP) has formed the guiding framework for achieving poverty reduction in Uganda. This also feeds into Uganda’s Vision 2025.

The PEAP adopts a multi-sectoral approach, recognizing the multi-dimensional nature of poverty. To ensure that all stakeholders are aware of the programe activities and are able to participate in planning and local budgeting, and to deliver the information needed by stakeholders at all levels; PEAP has developed communication strategies.

Within the context of information and knowledge, the PEAP recognizes that information is crucial for poverty eradication. It recognizes the media as one of the stakeholders involved in getting the PEAP to work, and indicates that Radio, newspapers and television have a role to play in getting information quickly to wide sections of the population. While the PEAP also recognizes the value of new communication technologies like email and Internet, it points out that the information may be used to:

Help educate people on how to develop new business.

Give advice about new techniques.

Bring news on successful planning to eradicate poverty in another part of the country.

Advise people when funds have arrived at the district, how much has been given and for what activities.

For the successful implementation of the PEAP however the media needs to understand the goals, objectives and targets of the PEAP. A review of media work indicates that some of their efforts are directed towards the goals of PEAP.

UMWA as an organization appreciates the goals of the PEAP and has made efforts to ensure that the members understand the goals. Through the media outlets The Other Voice and Mama FM, issues relating to the PEAP have been discussed. More specifically, UMWA has worked with Panos London to organize an awareness seminar on the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper for Uganda. Since then, UMWA has developed the Get Smart Rural Women’s project to improve the livelihoods of rural women through creating awareness about government programs in an easy to consume format. This is to ensure increased production and income for the women in line with Pillar 3 of the PEAP (Popular Version 2002).

The right of the public to access public information and place the process of government under scrutiny is one of the defining characteristics of liberal democracy. Public access to government information is a fundamental principle of self-government. When citizens are denied access to information about the basic workings of their government, they are also denied the ability to exercise fully their right of self-government. Ensuring this right is not abused; a number of regulations are in place. They include:

Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, binding on all states as a matter of customary international law, proclaims the right to information and freedom of expression. Uganda is also a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantees freedom of expression in Article 9.

Article 29 of the Ugandan Constitution guarantees freedom of expression in the following terms: 29(1) Every person shall have the right to- (a) freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media.

Article 41. (1) ‘Every citizen has a right of access to information in the possession of the State or any other organ or agency of the State except where the release of the information is likely to prejudice the security or sovereignty of the State or interfere with the right to the privacy of any other person. Restrictions on fundamental rights are provided for in Section 43 of the Constitution.

Informed public opinion should, therefore, be seen not as a threat to government, but as a restraint upon misgovernment. In that regard, a public right of access to information has the potential advantage of promoting efficient government, greater accountability in the conduct of public affairs, and a higher quality of decision-making. It is also key reason why the media exists. UMWA has expressed concern for the abuse of these rights and through various projects tried to ensure these rights are not abused.

Beyond the constitutional guarantees, the legal and policy framework governing media and press activities in Uganda includes:

The Press and Journalist Statute 1995: As provided in its preamble, the purpose of the statute is to ensure the freedom of the press, to provide for a council responsible for the regulation of mass media, to establish an institute of journalists of Uganda and to repeal the Newspaper and Publications Act (1964) and the Press Censorship and Correction Act.

Though unstated, the overall mission of the statute as stated by government officials on several occasions is to bestow legal recognition to journalism as a profession in Uganda. This would put it on the same level as other professions that are regulated by statue.

The statute establishes the media council, which is charged with the regulation of conduct and promotion of ethical standards and discipline by journalists, arbitration of disputes between the public and the media and the state among other functions. However, majority of the council members are government appointees who are under the authority of the minister in charge of information, thereby putting its independence in question.

The council exercises considerable power over the mass media in Uganda, including the power to censor. This gives the government legitimate leeway to restrict the freedom of journalists to disseminate information and comment freely on topical national issues.

The statute establishes the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda (NIJU), which is charged with establishing and maintaining professional fellowship among journalists. There is controversy over membership qualifications of NIJU. Full membership is limited to those with a first degree in mass communication or other disciplines with additional qualification in journalism.

The contention is that journalism was offered as a degree at Makerere University in just 1988 and even then the intake was very limited to 20 students for each academic year till 1995 when the evening classes commenced. This therefore leaves out a considerable number of practicing journalists who do not possess the requisite qualifications.

Electronic media statute 1996 provides for the establishment of a broadcasting council whose function is to issue licences and regulate radio and television stations. The statute provides for the establishment of a broadcasting council consisting of 12 members who are appointed by the minister of information. The council issues licences, a function performed by the media council thereby creating duplicity of roles.

Requirements for a license are not clear, thereby giving room for arbitrary abuse when issuing or denying licences. The law also imposes the payment for a TV licence. The interesting aspect is that less than 10 percent of the population own television sets, if then tracking people’s residential locations is difficult because there is no proper address system in Uganda.

 Sections of the Penal Code: The penal code has a number of provisions relating to the media. It however restricts freedoms of expression as it provides for a number of offences media practitioners are liable to and prescribes heavy and often unjustifiable sentences.

The sections in question are:

Sections 37 – gives a minister unlimited discretion to prohibit the importation of a publication whenever she/he ‘considers it in the public interest’.

Section 38(1) provides punishment of two years or a fine of two thousand shillings or both on a first offence and an array of other punishments on subsequent offences. It further prohibits having such publications in possession and similarly prescribes punishment. The law is reminiscent of colonial rule and police states.

39 A (1995) outlaws publishing of information regarding military operations, troop movement or location, military supply etc. which may endanger the safety of military operations or assist the enemy or disrupt public order and security. An offender is liable on conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding seven years.

Sections 41, 42 and 43, which provide for the offence of sedition are some of the most controversial provisions in the penal code. Section 42A is the anti-sectarianism law. Section 43 grants powers to government to confiscate printing machines that are involved in printing seditious material.

 Section 50 deals with publication of false news – an offence termed as misdemeanour. The concern of the state is that such publications cause fear and alarm the public. 50 A and B prohibit incitement to violence and to refuse or delay payment of taxes through publications or other means. The DPP is responsible with making a decision as to whether an incitement has occurred and therefore commence prosecution.

Section 51 prohibits defamation of foreign dignitaries.

Section 174-181 deals with criminal defamation. Under section 175(2) charges of criminal defamation can be brought against the alleged offender even if the person allegedly offended is alive or dead. This legislation is inconsistent with freedoms of expression and media as guaranteed by the constitution; it is also untenable in democratic societies. It has been argued that these offences are similar to civil defamation except when the state decides it is a serious criminal offence.

Some of the fines awarded against media houses are colossal (17,000 USD (20m Ug. Shs.) and have often resulted in their closure. It is therefore important that these laws be repealed or be amended because they place undue restrictions on media practice in Uganda.

Information and communication Policy

The development of this policy started in 1998 with the increase usage of new information and communication technologies (ICTs) like computers and the Internet. Though not primarily focused on the media, it goes towards creating a framework of clearly articulating roles and responsibilities for media in development. At the development stage of this policy, the communication white paper indicated that that the objective of the policy was:

to ensure that the provision of information should be comprehensive as possible and so designed that it reaches its targeted recipients in the forms best adopted to their needs and circumstances of reception. This is with the intention of making available the material needed for regular and well informed public discussion and decision making”.

UMWA’s work reflects most of these issues.

Other policies that regulate this sector include:

Communications Policy (1996).

Telecommunications Policy.

Rural Communication Development Policy (2001).

National Information and Communication (ICT) Policy (2003).

Broadcasting policy (2005).

The decentralization policy has fundamentally changed the nature of the state, making room for an active civil society. Central government has moved away from direct implementation of services to providing guidance in policy formulation, setting standards, as well as monitoring and evaluating services delivery.  It is now the responsibility of Local Governments (LG) to implement or oversee service provision (e.g. making development decisions, planning, budgeting, implementing and monitoring programs in their areas of jurisdiction). 

Government has implemented measures of affirmative action in LGs. There is a legal requirement that 30 percent of the parliament and local councils is comprised of women representatives, and this has increased political representation of women, but it does not apply to administrative positions.  Affirmative action at this level can reduce domestic violence, increase confidence and strengthen access to land by women.

Opportunities include:

Inter and intra local government communication, particularly from Local Council (LC) 1-5.

Monitoring the effects of national and local government poverty eradication programs. 

Supporting women to take public positions.

Work with relevant actors to address the low literacy /educational levels of women and negative attitudes of husbands.

Complementing the State in service delivery, participating in policy formulation and performance monitoring.

CSOs are also becoming more active in realms of advocacy, lobbying for changes in legislation and demanding accountability.

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