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UCC, RDCs Intimidating Media - Report

The report singles out the Uganda Communications Commission-UCC, Police, Internal Security Organization officials and Resident District Commissioners for thwarting freedom of expression by subjecting media houses and individual journalists to threats whenever they host opposition candidates.
Nicholas Opiyo of Chapter Four, Maria Burnett of Human Rights Watch and Haruna Kanaabi launching the report

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The ruling National Resistance Movement party officials are pinned for intimidating and threatening journalists and activists, in an effort to limit criticism of the government during ongoing campaigns, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. 

The 48-page report documents how some journalists and activists are facing increased threats as the elections loom. Uganda will hold presidential and parliamentary elections on February 18, 2016.

The report singles out the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Police, Internal Security Organisation officials and Resident District Commissioners, for thwarting freedom of expression by subjecting media houses and individual journalists to threats whenever they host opposition candidates.

“Some journalists noted that if they covered opposition events or views on certain issues, district authorities claim they were causing instability or were inciting violence. Others stated that they are offered money by political parties for favorable coverage,” the report states.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 170 journalists, activists, members of political parties, government officials, and witnesses to specific events across Uganda for the report. At least 83 journalists were interviewed between early September to December 2015 in Jinja, Kampala, Lira, Gulu, Mbale, Soroti, Hoima and Kabarole districts.

Speaking at the launch of the report in Kampala, Maria Burnett, HRW\'s Senior Africa Researcher observes that in a highly charged political season, such acts prevent voters from receiving informed and objective issues, in turn impeding a free and fair election.

“Government and ruling party officials have a legal obligation to allow the expression of a variety of viewpoints on issues of public concern as the country prepares for the election,” Burnett said. “Muzzling free expression and prompting fear, especially outside Kampala where there is so little international scrutiny, doesn\'t bode well for Uganda\'s ability to hold free and fair elections in February,” she adds.

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The report comes months after two radio journalists in Jinja and Hoima were suspended by their respective media houses for hosting FDC presidential candidate, Kizza Besigye.  In November 2015, UCC issued warnings to several media outlets for hosting presidential advisor, Tamale Mirundi over claims of complaints of abuse of people on air.

Haruna Kanaabi of the Independent Media Council of Uganda notes that threats against media freedom are one of the indicators of an undemocratic state.

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However, Fred Otunnu, the Communications Director at UCC, told URN on phone that the report is inaccurate; noting that the institution enforces standards and any media entity that violates this is bound to be reprimanded.

“At UCC, we strictly follow the laws to ensure that programmes broadcast or published comply with the law. Whoever is unhappy with this has a right to challenge this in court,” Otunnu said.

Nicholas Opiyo, the Executive Director of Chapter Four, says the media must increase its advocacy for its freedoms if it is to remain relevant in the political space while government should respect the freedom of expression.