Government is planning to amend the Press and Journalists Act to include clauses that provide for new emerging electronic media and offences.
The Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Ms Judith Nabakooba, at the weekend said the amended law will provide a safe working environment for journalists and regulate the media industry, which has now changed following emergency of new forms of media.
She said government will first engage relevant stakeholders, including the Media Council and media houses before the amendment process starts.
She said some of the salient issues which will be included in the new law include remuneration for journalists, use of digital media, training for journalists and their protection both at their workplaces and in the field.
“The presence of the new media and citizen journalism means that a lot has taken place. So this law that has been in existence for 20 years needs to be amended. We need to look at the provisions which we can continue with and those that can be removed and we insert in new provisions that will take care of the new technology and the journalists’ welfare,” Ms Nabakooba said while at Busega Seventh Day Adventist Church where she was officiating at the dedication prayers for the Adventist Media Association (AMA).
However, the minister did not reveal when the amendment process will start but noted that it will require time and involvement of other actors like government, media and legal scholars whose opinions she said will inform the preparation of the Bill to amend the current law.
The Press and Journalists Act is an Act of Parliament to ensure the freedom of press and provide for a Council responsible for regulation of the mass media and to establish an institute of Journalists in Uganda.
Ms Nabakooba’s remarks come on the heels of security brutality against journalists, something which has been condemned by both media practitioners and civil society organisations.
Last month, military police brutalised many journalists while they covered the National Unity Platform president Robert Kyagulanyi who was delivering a petition to United Nations Human Rights Council offices in Kololo, Kampala.
The Uganda People’s Defence Forces later charged seven of its officers who assaulted the journalists.
Ms Nabakooba said government recognises the role of journalists because they are a voice of the people and also popularise government programmes.
She also said all government poverty-eradication programmes shall now be implemented at parish level instead of sub-county level.
She said government realised that most people at local level don’t benefit from such programmes because the process is very long and eventually only few parishes are covered.
Mr Joshua Musasizi, the AMA president, said journalists will not wait for the beating of more journalists to condemn the brutality.
“The freedom of the press and the right for journalists should be respected. Journalism is a hard task but it was our calling to serve the people. Just like other professions like medicine and teaching, journalism is a calling hence security officers must respect our profession. Journalism isn’t a crime,” he said.
Asked about the proposed amendment of the media law, Mr Musasizi said government should consider a media tribunal in the new law to arbitrate cases between media practitioners and the Uganda Communications Commission and clearly specify remuneration for journalists.
Mr Wilson Kaija Akiiki, a lecturer at Makerere University and a media trainer, said government should be looking at scrapping the existing different media laws and come up with a comprehensive law which caters for all media issues.
For instance, he said, the Press and Journalists Act, Electronic Media Act and the Uganda Communications Act have some clauses which are almost similar.
He also tasked government not to wait for the amendment of the law but to prosecute the security officers who beat journalists.
The executive director for Human Rights Network for Journalists in Uganda, Mr Robert Sempala, said the media framework needs an overhaul because the provisions in the current law are very old.
Caution: “We will sort out all challenges affecting you. But I would also like to warn you that there is no story that is worth your life. If you see that a certain story might put you in trouble, please leave it,” Judith Nabakooba, Information minister.