MPs want stronger law for media to protect identities of sexual violence survivors

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A select parliamentary committee constituted to investigate allegations of sexual violence in Uganda’s schools, colleges and universities has recommended strict legal measures to ensure survivors of sexual violence are protected by the media.

In its report released on 7 March 2019, the committee proposed the inclusion of a clause in the Sexual Offenses Bill that “prohibits the publication of the true names, location and other identifying information of victims of sexual offenses in the media and in court records to protect victims from revictimisation.”

The Bill, tabled in Parliament in 2016, includes a clause that protects survivors of sexual violence by prohibiting the publication of information that reveals the identities of both the complainant and the accused in court proceedings. The committee wants this provision strengthened and broadened, noting that currently media “are free to publish the intimate details of victims” exposing them to “great risks”.

A significant number of media houses across Uganda have implemented editorial policies that prohibit the disclosure of the identities of sexual violence survivors regardless of age and gender. To ensure accountability to their audiences, several media houses have made their policies public. Stressing the importance of these rules, Nation Media Group-Uganda public editor, Odoobo Bichachi, wrote in the 23 November, 2018 edition of Daily Monitor  that “editors have a moral obligation to ensure they leave no margin whatsoever that could lead to the identification of such victims.”

Undergirding newsroom policies is the Independent Media Council of Uganda Journalism Code of Ethics that bars journalists from identifying survivors of sexual assault without their consent or publishing and broadcasting material likely to contribute to such identification. The council’s code emphasises that even when consent is given, journalists must be aware that revictimisation may occur.

There have, however, been are a few periodic, but significant breaches of this code in sections of the media. In a submission to the select committee, feminist leadership development organisation Akina Mama wa Afrika noted that both print and electronic media were on occasion used by perpetrators of sexual violence to “harass and shame” their victims.

The recommendation of the parliamentary select committee seeks to prevent any further violations by harmonising journalistic ethical codes with proposed legislation and enshrining the protection of sexual violence survivors into law.

Read the full committee report here.

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