Speech by Morgens Pedersen, the Ambassador of Denmark (on behalf of EU) at the Conference held at Golf Course Hotel Kampala on 3rd of May, to mark World Press Freedom Day 2017
Hon Minister ICT and National Guidance
Ambassador and members of the diplomatic corps
Representatives from media houses, networks of journalists and press associations
Ladies and gentlemen (all protocol observed)
It is a great pleasure for me to speak on behalf the EU, on this day when we observe the International Press Freedom Day 2017. Today’s event is an important opportunity to discuss the present situation of the freedom of press in Uganda and the challenges encountered.
Freedom of opinion and expression are fundamental rights of every human being. I believe we all can agree that being able to express our opinion is about dignity and personal fulfillment.
Freedom to express your opinion, freedom of the media, and access to information are fundamental aspects of democracy and rule of law. From EU member countries and from my own country, Denmark, I have seen how views expressed in the media cause intense debates on political topics and morale, and I strongly believe this open debate has contributed to a vibrant, dynamic, peaceful and stable society.
The Constitution of Uganda states very clearly that every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression and freedom of the press and other media.
It is a pleasure to acknowledge and appreciate the existing diversity of the press in Uganda. Uganda has an active media scene with a great variety of magazines, newspapers, hundreds of radio stations and TV stations, and a rising number of online sources of journalism and opinions. On a daily basis, we enjoy reading well-written analysis and thoughts from journalists and opinion makers in the press. There is room for debate in many areas of public interest, including the political, in newspapers, on television and on the numerous FM radio stations across the country. This is important as it empowers us by exposing us to different ways of seeing the world and the society we live in.
However, we have observed increasing limitations to freedom of the press, in particular since the leading up to the general elections in 2016. Turning off radio transmissions or shutting down media outlets have been frequent. In 2016 social media was shut down twice.
In the World Press Freedom report, which launched its latest index last week, Uganda dropped from number 102 to 112 – out of a total of 180. The 10-places-drop down the list was explained to be a result of intimidation and violence against journalists, threats to close down media outlets in the past year, internet cuts, and verbal and physical attacks on reporters.
As EU member states we are strongly concerned of attacks and intimidation against journalists and opinion makers, and we encourage the relevant authorities to effectively investigate and prosecute the perpetrators. There are numerous reports of obstructing access to information and confiscation or destruction of equipment to physical aggression against journalists – mostly by the police.
Several journalists and bloggers have been arrested or detained within the past months for what they have published on social media. This has been the case of journalists informing on the violent clashes in Kasese at the end of 2016. Also, journalists covering the case of Dr Stella Nyanzi have been harassed.
We strongly urge the relevant authorities, among them the police and security forces and the Uganda Communication Commission, to respect the diversity of the press and media and difference of opinion, and avoid harassment of journalists and media.
I also want to acknowledge the critical role of Uganda Human Rights Commission in monitoring and reporting on the respect of freedom of the press and cases of intimidation and violence against journalists. I encourage the Commission to enhance its efforts to protect the media and the journalists.
Let me end by thanking the many journalists present today by expressing my gratitude for the hard work you do to provide information on issues of national importance in an objective manner. Despite the challenges, it is important to maintain and develop the diverse and lively media landscape of Uganda. Here you play a key role: responsible reporting is about fostering reflection, dialogue and understanding, and appreciation of different viewpoints. This is essential to promote broad-based dialogue and avoid feelings of hatred and violent confrontation.
As EU member states, we will continue to work in order to ensure that freedom of expression remains a prominent issue during dialogue with government and other stakeholders. This will help ensure that Uganda fulfills its commitment to international conventions, like the African Charter of Human and People’s Rights, which stipulates that every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions.
Thank you for listening.