The event was organised through a partnership between the Delegation of the European Union to Uganda and the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO. The discussion focussed mainly on the problem of impunity for crimes against journalists in Uganda, but also featured reflections on the situation in East Africa, Europe and the world.
Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the discussion was held in front of a small group of in-person participants, while an audience followed on YouTube and other social media channels. Speakers included the Head of the European Union Delegation to Uganda, the Secretary General of the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO, the Minister of State for National Guidance, journalists, government officials, civil society representatives, academia, and the security services.
In her welcome remarks, Ms. Rosie Agoi, the Secretary General of the Uganda National Commission for UNESCO, underlined their institution’s efforts to strengthen the national capacity to protect and promote freedom of expression, as a fundamental human right vital to sustainable development. She urged stakeholders to make all possible efforts to ensure the safety of the journalists.
In his opening remarks, European Union Ambassador H.E Attilio Pacifici called on the relevant authorities to do better in protecting journalists and sanctioning those found to have violated the constitutional rights of journalists. He stressed that media freedom is a crucial and a vital element of any successful democratic society, and emphasised the commitment of the EU as a longstanding partner of Uganda.
Mr. Thomas Millar, Head of Sector, Democratic Governance at the European Commission’s International Partnerships Directorate General, joined the discussion by video message. He underscored the actions being taken by the EU to combat impunity for crimes against journalists in Europe, including plans for a new media freedom law in 2022.
In her keynote presentation, Dr. Emily Maractho, Director of Africa Policy Centre at Uganda Christian University, stressed that threats against journalists stem from an absence of or respect for freedom, despite the constitutional guarantees in place. She emphasised the need to redefine the concept of freedom and to pursue and protect it with passion in order to end impunity.
The keynote presentation was followed by a lively panel discussion moderated by journalist Rukh-Shana Namuyimba. During the discussion, Culton Scovia, a top television journalist spoke about her personal experience as a female journalist being arrested during election campaigns, despite the fact that she, and all journalists arrested at that time, were clearly identified as media personnel.
On his part, Uganda Police Force Senior Superintendent, Emiliano Kayima acknowledged that there was room for improvement and spoke about the commitment of the security services to uphold and protect the rights of journalists in Uganda. He also called for mutual understanding between the security services and the journalists.
Margaret Ssentamu, the head of civil society organisation Uganda Media Women's Association (UMWA) called for journalists "to fight for our space" and urged for "continuous training for media practitioners."
The panel discussion was followed by a video message from Muthoki Momo from the Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) in Nairobi who highlighted the high rate of impunity for crimes against journalists in Sub-Saharan African Countries including Somalia, South Sudan, Kenya, and Ethiopia.
A plenary question and answer session brought out a wide spectrum of views on the situation faced by journalists in Uganda today. Some speakers representing state agencies emphasised the need for journalists to be formally registered with the Media Council of Uganda in order for their protection by the state to be guaranteed.
A journalist countered this view by stating that journalists are not given the opportunity to identify themselves before being beaten and that impunity was “embedded in our culture”. He stressed that this culture must first be changed if journalists are to be protected. A speaker from the Uganda Human Rights Commission shared that journalists do not take forward many complaints lodged at the Commission, sometimes because they are paid off.
In a penultimate session, investigative journalist and broadcaster Solomon Sserwanja, presented a shortened version of the documentary “Targeted”, produced by his organisation the Africa Institute for Investigative Journalism (AIIJ). The documentary conveys the personal accounts of Ugandan journalists who suffered harassment, arrest and physical attacks at the hands of security personnel during Uganda's recent presidential election campaign.
In his closing remarks, Hon. Kabbyanga Baluku, State Minister for National Guidance reiterated the Government of Uganda’s commitment to ensuring end to impunity for crimes against journalists. He also said the door of the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance was open to dialogue with journalists on this subject.
The conversation continued online via the hashtag #EndImpunityUG21.
For details about the full proceedings of the debate please see: