Police to block unaccredited journalists from covering elections

The Uganda Police announced Monday that starting 21 December 2020, only journalists accredited by the Media Council of Uganda will be allowed to cover political campaigns and other electoral events. 

This follows a directive by the Council to all practising journalists across Uganda to apply for accreditation to ensure their safety and protection, a move that has attracted criticism because of the timing and costs, among other things. 

Addressing journalists on Monday, Police Spokesperson Fred Enanga said the Joint Security Task Force would implement the guidelines issued by the Media Council, starting next week.

“All our territory commanders will recognise only journalists who are accredited by the Media Council and will ensure that only those cover the political campaigns and other electoral events,” he said. 

Enanga added that all accredited journalists would be subjected to verification processes for authenticity and to ensure that the details captured on the security code on their press cards match their particulars. 

“Journalists who hold accreditations from outside the Media Council or hold work IDs will not be granted permission to cover the electoral events,” he said. “If they insist, they will be treated as well-wishers and not benefit from the privileges that will be accorded to the accredited journalists.” 

Enanga said that this will limit the spread of rumours, unbalanced coverage, and biased opinions. 

ACME executive director Peter Mwesige said on Twitter, “The Uganda Police threat to enforce the dubious Media Council accreditation of journalists to cover the electoral process is not only preposterous but illegal and unconstitutional.” 

He added: “The right to free expression is not for journalists only. It’s for all citizens. Candidates and their parties have a right to have whoever they want covering their campaigns.”

Media Council chairman Paulo Ekochu said last week criminal charges would be slapped on any media houses and journalists, both local and international, including freelancers, who fail to register.

However, industry groups and civil society organisations protested the directive from the regulator, questioning the timing in the middle of campaigns ahead of the 14 January 2021 general elections.

On Tuesday Representatives of the Uganda Editors’ Guild, ACME, and other media rights groups met the chairman and called upon the council to reconsider its move.  They said while registration of journalists could bring some order to the industry, the timing and deadline were “unreasonable”, according to a statement from the Guild. 

They called upon the council to “give all stakeholders an opportunity to find common ground and ensure the process is legal and reasonable”.

The regulator was also reminded about “the need to protect the constitutional right to freedom of expression, including for citizen journalists”.

Mr Ekochu said the council would meet over the response it had received and also consult other stakeholders, including the Electoral Commission, before responding by Friday 18, December.

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IMAGE: Police block Uganda journalists from covering the arrest of the opposition leader Kizza Besigye in March, 2016. Daily Monitor photo

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