Speech by the Chairperson, Uganda Human Rights Commission At the Launch of the 2017/18 Global Report on ‘World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development’

Wednesday, March 14, 2018 - 15:15

Ladies and Gentlemen,

All Protocol Observed

I bring you greetings from the Uganda Human Rights Commission which as you may already be aware is the national human rights institution mandated to protect and promote human rights in the country. The Commission is honoured by the invitation to launch this report on global trends in freedom of expression and media management.

The Commission welcomes the report, not only in view of the critical importance of evidence-based analysis in developing appropriate actions, but more importantly because it covers a fundamental human right i.e. the freedom of expression.

Freedom of speech and expression underpins all other human rights and freedoms because individuals must be free to exercise their right to think, form an opinion, freely seek, receive and impart ideas and opinions, in order for them to effectively realise all their other human rights that are a prerequisite for their human dignity. The Constitution of Uganda provides in Article 29 that “every person shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media”. This right is also provided for in a number of other international and regional human rights instruments ratified by Uganda that equally underscore its great significance.

Indeed, freedom of the press and other media and the individuals’ freedom of expression are indivisible and interdependent. The promotion and protection of media freedom enhances the wider freedom of speech and expression of individuals and the public. On the flip side, any attack or illegitimate restriction on media freedom inevitably impacts negatively on the general freedom of speech and expression of individuals. It follows then that issues of media freedom should be a concern of all citizens, not just the media fraternity or human rights defenders.

The indispensable role of free, independent, vibrant and gender-sensitive media in a functioning democracy cannot be overemphasised. Not only are they enablers of the right to freedom of speech and expression as already alluded to, but they also facilitate the enjoyment of the right to information. These two rights are critical for enhancing citizens’ participation in their governance and in development processes. Active and informed participation of citizens is one of the five principles of the human rights-based approach which is a sure means to sustainable development. Thus, we can conclusively assert that media freedom is a prerequisite for effective citizen participation. Good enough, in Uganda it is now a policy requirement for government to apply the human rights-based approach in development planning and programming. 

As the Constitution of Uganda demands, the exercise and enjoyment of rights and freedoms is inseparable from the performance of duties and obligations. Media and press freedom come with special duties and responsibilities on the part of journalists, the fulfillment of which is equally critical for protection of media freedom.

The positive developments in the media landscape across the world are welcome. Some of those cited in the report are: The legal guarantees for freedom of expression and media freedom; the developments in technology leading to the unprecedented influence of the internet with the emergence of new media having the potential to expand the freedoms, the information sources as well as the actors who are currently beyond the journalists. There is also increased recognition and enhancement of the right to access information; recognition of the need for training and professionalism; the acknowledgement that cyber space requires regulation; journalists increasingly playing their role as human rights defenders; and actions to enhance the safety of journalists. 

However, the disruptive effects of these developments remain concerns that human rights defenders, enforcers and all stakeholders need to monitor closely. These include, to mention but a few, the disadvantages brought about by the diminishing space for journalism in its traditional sense; the abuse and misuse of social media as a source of false or unverified news; the impact of the profit motivation on media businesses and the lack of independence from commercial interests; the tendency for some journalists to put profiteering above professionalism and its negative impact on neutrality and objectivity; the metamorphosis of some journalists into government spies; the lack of regard for the special duties and responsibilities that come with media freedom; the increased attacks on journalists causing loss of  their equipment and lives in several instances (an average of two deaths per week as the report indicates is really gross); kidnapping and illegally detaining them; and impunity for violation of these rights. The Commission has severally spoken out against such violations of media freedom in Uganda particularly, during periods of heightened political tension such as elections and increased criminality, whereby journalists have been specifically targeted and recorded some cases of human rights violations against journalists. The incidents have also been documented in the Commission’s annual and special reports with recommendations for action by the concerned institutions.

No doubt therefore, that the findings on media freedom and its key pillars of pluralism, independence and safety as presented in the global report will be instrumental in informing the appropriate actions for industry self-regulation, policy and law reform, as well as effective implementation of existing frameworks. Therefore, the realisation of the fundamental freedom of expression in its entirety both globally and in Uganda specifically, must be effectively enhanced.

This launch therefore provides another opportunity for us stakeholders to be reminded that a lot still needs to be done to ensure full respect of the freedom of expression. Some soul-searching is required not only to ensure improvement in observance of all the rights at stake but also to prevent retrogression on the aspects on which gains have already been registered.  The occasion should also be used by all media practitioners to re-commit themselves to raise the bar of their professionalism by adhering to their professional ethical code and guard against misusing their important role as enablers of the enjoyment of the right to information in their respective communities.

As a key stakeholder in human rights protection and promotion in Uganda, the Commission pledges to follow up the findings and recommendations with the concerned parties. We will closely monitor the implementation of state obligations on freedom of expression and media freedom as stipulated in the Constitution of Uganda and other human rights instruments, including the 2030 Agenda for sustainable Development and the UN Plan of Action on the safety of journalists. 

I now take the pleasure to launch the 2017/18 Global Report on ‘World Trends in freedom of expression and media development’.

For God and my Country

I thank you.

 

Meddie B. Mulumba

For: Chairperson Uganda Human Rights Commission

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