Press under the cosh.

Author:Ojulu, Epajjar
Position:Around Africa: Uganda - Press freedom in Uganda

When President Museveni loosened the state's hold on the media some years ago, journalists believed that a new era of press freedom had dawned in the country. But recent events indicate that this right may be eroding fast. Epajjar Ojulu reports from Kampala.

The long-held image that the government of President Yoweri Museveni, who came to power in 1986, has turned the country into a haven for free press after the torments journalists endured during the post-independence eras of Milton Obote and Gen. Idi Amin is rapidly losing credibility

Although Uganda has about 200 FM radio stations, over three dozen television stations and numerous publications, the owners are aware that like his predecessors, President Museveni does not easily tolerate criticism.

In addition to allegedly torturing, detaining and charging individual journalists for sedition, the Museveni government has attacked media houses he accuses of subversion and publishing harmful news.

The Daily Monitor, owned by the Nairobi-based Nation Media Group, part of the Aga Khan's business network, has earned much of Museveni's wrath for its independence and objective reporting.

On 22 May 2013, police raided and shut down the newspaper offices in Kampala to prevent it from publishing allegations by General David Sejusa (Tinyefuza) that there were plans to assassinate senior army officers opposed to plans to have Museveni's son, Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba succeed him. Although The Monitor was halted, that did not stop the news from spreading.

The Police also ordered the Uganda Communications Commission to switch off KFM and Dembe FM radio stations, owned by the same group. Last year, the government also shut down The Red Pepper, apolitical-cum-pornographic daily, for publishing a story which was already stale news but which the government claimed could damage its relations with Rwanda.

The paper was allowed to reopen after its editors were invited to State House where they were 'pardoned and advised by the President on good journalism practices'.

As with his predecessors, Museveni's bad relations with the media seem to arise during political crises. The question of his succession led to acrimony during debates in Parliament to remove Presidential term and age limits, which paved the way for him to seek another term. The controversial amendment of the Constitution triggered ongoing protests where journalists covering them have been attacked.

However, former Information Minister and current...

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