The Deputy head of the High Court Civil Division Justice Emmanuel Baguma has directed that two of the four files that were before him challenging the decision by Uganda Communications Commission to suspend 39 journalists be transferred to Lady Justice Esta Nambayo for a consolidated hearing.
Baguma says this is to help Court not to come up with conflicting and confusing decisions in cases filed by different applications but against similar respondents with same facts and also that seek similar orders.
On April 30th 2019, the then Director of Uganda Communications Commission-UCC Godfrey Mutabazi ordered a suspension for 39 journalists from 13 media houses accusing them of having breached the minimum broadcasting standards.
The media houses are:
Akaboozi FM, BBS TV, Beat FM, Bukedde TV, Capital FM, CBS FM, Kingdom TV , NBS TV, NTV , Pearl FM, Salt TV , Sapientia FM and Simba FM.
These had broadcast live the protest led by National Unity Platform Party President Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu on April 29th 2019 on Kampala Road where he was joined by many activists protesting the the decision by the government to introduce a 200 shillings tax on social media platforms.
But Mutabazi wrote to each of the media houses to suspend it's head of program, head of news and a producer and asked each station to give him names of and qualifications each subject held and also to send him recordings of all live programs that were aired on the day of the protest.
The directive by Mutabazi was challenged in the Courts of law by seven applicants who in total filed four separate applications against Mutabazi as individual, UCC and the Attorney General.
The applicants are:
Lawyers Ronald Bwire and Henry Byansi, Uganda Journalists Association, Human Rights Network for Journalists, Centre for Constitutional Governance , Strategic Response International and lawyer Michael Aboneka.
These noted that the continuous arbitrary switching off of various radio stations under UCC watch without due process across the country whenever there are public talk shows is neglect of its sole duty as a regulator and abuse of process of law and violation of fundamental rights to freedom of expression, opinion, information fair hearing and right to practice one's profession.
They added that there was no fully constituted Communications Tribunal at the Media Council which has the mandate to demand for qualifications and calling of disciplinary action against media and therefore the decision by Mutabazi was illegal.
The applicants asked Court to quash Mutabazi's directive and to issue an order directing the government to Constitute a Tribunal which is currently lacking quorum before the Media Council.
However, two of the applications including the one for the lawyers and another by Uganda Journalists Association had been consolidated and allocated to Justice Lydia Mugambe who was transferred and her pending files allocated to Justice Esta Nambayo.
The other cases of Civil Society Organizations and another by Human Rights Network for Journalists which came later were allocated to Justice Emmanuel Baguma.
But on Friday after looking through the files before him, Justice Baguma indicated that there were other similar cases before Justice Nambayo and indicated that in the interest of justice, even the files before him should be transferred to her to avoid conflicting decisions since they arise from similar facts.
The applicants had no objection save for Henry Byansi who complained about the delay to hear their case filed more than three years ago.
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On March 18th 2022, the Attorney General through an affidavit of Principal State Attorney Wanyama Kodoli asked the Court to dismiss the case on grounds that the applicants have no sufficient interest in the case since they are not the affected parties.
The Attorney General added that the appointment of members of the Media Council and Communications Tribunal requires appropriation of funds by Parliament which the applicants have not proved that it was appropriated by Parliament.