Media Council bans tabloid in anti-gay crusade

The Media Council has ordered a new tabloid, Rolling Stone, to cease publication citing failure to comply with the law on registration of editors with the statutory regulator.

The order comes after a coalition of Ugandan human rights organisations filed a complaint to the tabloid about the content of its October 02-09 issue, which published pictures of alleged homosexuals and also called for their hanging. A copy of the letter was sent to the Media Council.

Media Council Secretary Paul Mukasa told ACME that although the complainants, Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights & Conditions of Law (CSCHRCL), addressed the letter to the Rolling Stone editors and only copied the regulator in, their letter had brought his attention the tabloid’s failure to follow the law.

He said the Media Council had not received a formal complaint about Rolling Stone, and sought to address only the issue of the tabloid’s failure to apply for a practicing certificate for its editor before commencing publication.

Created by the Press and Journalist Act, the Media Council is mandated with regulating the conduct of and promoting good ethical standards and discipline of journalists; arbitrating disputes between the public and the media as well as those between the State and the media; and also exercising disciplinary control over journalists, editors and publishers.

In a letter dated October 12, addressed to Mr Giles Muhame, the Managing Editor of Rolling Stone, Mr Mukasa wrote, “…it has come to our knowledge that you published in contravention of Section 5 of the Press and Journalists Act (CAP 105) which makes you criminally liable”.

According to Section 5, a new publication must register details of its editors with the Media Council for approval.

Mr Muhame told ACME that the publication had not done so because its editor had not yet received his academic credentials.
“We were still processing the academic papers of the editors and he was only acting as an interim editor,” he said. “But last Friday, he got his testimonial and we have now submitted his details to the Media Council.”

Mr Mukasa said that the Council would sit and discuss the issue before issuing the editor with a licence.

For now, publication of the tabloid has been halted. “The Council therefore informs you that the requirements of the law must be adhered to before you can publish a newspaper and orders you to stop publishing “The Rolling Stone” until all the requirements of the law are completed, or face the full force of the law,” the letter said.

Mr Muhame hopes the third edition will be out this week if the Media Council finally approves the editor.

Homophobic content

In his October 6 letter to Muhame, CSCHRCL coordinator Adrian said the paper’s story naming Ugandan homosexuals was false, infringed on the privacy of the named individuals, incited hatred among the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGTBI) community and was also defamatory.

The article, “100 pictures of Uganda’s Top homos Leak”, contained names, pictures, places of residence and other details of individuals described as the “top 100 homos”.

“The paper published the list of alleged homosexuals, affirming that they are gay or lesbian without verifying the truths of the statements,” the complaint to the editor read. “All these statements are untrue as there is no proof that the said individuals are gay or lesbian…”

Mr Jjuuko said that the story contravened two clauses in the Journalists Code of Ethics, namely, dissemination of information without establishing its correctness and also publishing information that promotes discrimination and incites violence.

“Unfortunately, this is exactly what the Rolling Stone did by calling for the hanging of gays and then naming individuals it claims to be gay,” he said. “This is an act of inciting violence and also inciting discrimination against people with different sexual orientations and against the particular individuals named.”

Mr Jjuuko added: “The article is a blatant violation of the right to privacy of the named individuals as it exposes their private life and also violates the integrity of their persons and communications, and thus goes contrary to Article 27 of the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda.”

He said, “The article also poses a security threat to the lives of persons named for their residences, identities and employment were revealed. This subjects them to physical insecurity as well as job insecurity. Many are likely to be subjects to mob justice.”

The civil society coalition has demanded that the paper withdraws the statements in their next publication and also apologises to the named persons “the same was that the defamatory article was publicised”.

They also want the paper to stop further publishing and revelation of more identities of persons they refer to as homosexuals or lesbians.

But Mr Muhame told ACME his paper was playing “public service” role and would not apologise.
“What we published was in public interest,” he said. “They are practising what is against the law and we want police to investigate. We cannot give them an apology,” Muhame said.

Meanwhile, editors of the original U.S. based Rolling Stone magazine have asked the Uganda editors to stop using the name Rolling Stone. The note published in their online edition says, “Not only are we not affiliated in any way with the Ugandan paper, we have demanded they cease using our name as a title.”

However, the magazine’s legal options may be limited as, according to Jann Wenner, founder of the the U.S.-based Rolling Stone, who said the magazine never copyrighted the name in Uganda.

Homosexuality is banned in Uganda. A Bill that sought to entrench current provisions of the Penal Code criminalising homosexuality and to introduce new related categories of crimes and sanctions was shelved after it received international condemnation.

The civil society coalition has threatened to seek legal redress if Rolling Stone does not publish an apology.

For his part, Mr Mukasa said the Media Council had not yet received a formal complaint about the content of Rolling Stone. “We are not prejudiced about what was written,” he said. “When they complain to us, the Council will sit and look at the content in line with the existing laws on ethics.”

The international media has also been awash with stories about the Rolling Stone story. (Click on the links below to read the stories)

 

About the Author: Grace Natabaalo is a Programme Associate at the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME). She has previously worked as a reporter and Internet Sub-Editor at the Monitor in Kampala.

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