Government has refused to succumb to the growing pressure calling its agency, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to rescind its directive to 13 media houses to suspend their staff for reportedly breaching minimum broadcasting standards.
In a statement issued this afternoon during the plenary sitting by Chris Baryomunsi, State Minister for Housing, government argues that by UCC ordering suspension of 39 journalists from 13 media it’s fulfilling its mandate.
Government has instead advised media owners and journalists not contented with UCC’s directive to seek redress in courts of law.
“Government is committed to ensure we observe freedoms but we have institutions mandated to do their work, the persons affected are free to go to court and challenges UCC if given outside the law. But we do respect the rights of media practitioners,” Baryomunsi said.
He made the remarks following a complaint raised by Ibrahim Ssemujju (Kira Municipality), who informed Parliament that Uganda’s global ranking on media freedoms have dropped to the 125th position up from 117 the nation held in 2017 and Uganda’s drop in position was blamed on social media tax (OTT), arrest and beating of journalists and most recently switching off transmitters of radio stations that were hosting FDC leaders.
“Tomorrow is going to be World Press and as we approach the Executive Director of UCC has issued a draconian order to suspend journalists that were covering the arrest of Bobi Wine live and he wants 13 media stations to suspend senior journalists. A country that is battering journalists can only attract fortune hunters not tourists. We want the Minister to come here and brief Parliament on steps taken on improving outlook as a country,” Ssemujju said.
He noted that at the moment, tourism is Uganda’s leading foreign exchange earner and it would be wastage of funds if Government spent funds marketing the nation yet the negative coverage of abuse of media freedoms are detrimental to the country’s image.
He asked the Minister of Internal Affairs to prevail over and issue sanctions against individual actors that are soiling Uganda’s image through battering of journalists and also requested Government to prevail over the overzealous employees to stop issuing these crazy directives and reverse the order demanding particular journalists to be suspended.
However, Muwanga Kivumbi (Butambala County) protested the decision to have Baryomunsi speak on media freedoms yet there is a substantive minister of ICT, Frank Tumwebaze to explain actions of UCC.
“As Parliament, our mandate is to defend, accord and protect the constitution. If UCC is abusing the law, it is the mandate of parliament to hold it accountable. May you request the substantive minister to make a statement instead of a half hazard statement of which it isn’t his docket and isn’t conversant with matter at hand,” said Muwanga.
Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah argued that Parliament’s mandate is to audit the performance of institutions on their mandates and functions.
“If there is a violation, excessive behaviour I don’t think that falls within parliament’s mandate. If someone has violated mandate, it can’t be parliament to correct it,” he said,