July 10, 2020
Kenya Correspondents Association (KCA) on Friday July 10, 2020 held a meeting with stakeholders from Uganda to discuss strategies for enhancing partnership between the media and civil society sectors to protect the right to the enjoyment of civil liberties in the country.
The online meeting reviewed the civic space situation in the country and expressed concern at the increasing restrictions on civil liberties during the Covid 19 pandemic period and additional layers of regulations on the country’s General Elections process due in February 2021.
The participants who were drawn from the media and civil society sectors observed that government regulations on tackling Covid 19, including the complete lockdown of the country, had worsened the situation leading to increased human rights violations.
The government had imposed severe restrictions on freedom of movement, assembly, and access to information for the media leading to the arrest and incarceration of a number of journalists on trumped up charges meant to intimidate the media.
In some regions, selective application of the covid 19 regulations had seen security forces facilitate “favoured business associates” to carry on with cross border trade in livestock and other goods when a majority of Ugandans were forced to close their businesses.
A number of participants expressed worry over the move by the country’s electoral body’s to declare that the next General Elections will be conducted using “scientific methods”, due to the covid 19 pandemic, largely through radio, TV, and social media, which they feared will exclude large sections of the population from accessing credible information to make informed choices at the elections.
They said the media landscape, especially, media ownership favoured the ruling party with most radio stations controlled by ruling party “fanatics” who will not allow alternative views and opposition politicians access to the airwaves.
The poor internet infrastructure, radio and TV reception in many rural regions of Uganda, they said, would exclude large numbers of people from access to reliable information which could undermine the credibility of the electoral process.
The forum agreed on the need to enhance solidarity and collaboration between the media and civil society groups in the country and the East African region and build “a resilient mechanism for sustained resistance” to the ongoing efforts by the governments to restrict the civic space.
Speaking at the forum, KCA Chairman William Oloo Janak called for sustained dialogue between the media and civil society groups to develop strategies for a common push back on the encroachment on the civic space by governments in the region.
“It is clear to all of us in East Africa that the civic space is under threat and we therefore urge the media and civil society sectors to work together to mount a strong push back on the threats on behalf of the citizens of the region and to engage the states constructively to address the emerging concerns and actual violations of human rights,” said Janak.
Janak said KCA’s initiative, in partnership with the International Center for Not-for profit Law (ICNL), was meant to create opportunities to enhance the collaboration between the CSOs and the media to better defend civic space and help correct the emerging negative narratives and perceptions of civil society and the media in East Africa meant to undermine their role of holding the states, agencies and leaders accountable.
Some of the participants said private prosecution of human rights violators was being undermined by the state prosecution department which often took over such cases and simply closed them.
They added that critical journalists and media outlets were being targeted through the spread of fake news and misinformation by state agencies slow them down and undermine their credibility.