Each year, World Press Freedom Day is marked around the world to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom, to defend media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives while carrying out their duties.
To mark this year’s celebrations, Hivos joined the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), in partnership with the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA), the US Embassy, Twaweza and other partners in Uganda to reflect on the role of media in promoting freedom of expression in democratic societies.
The event, held in Kampala, Uganda, brought together journalists, civil society organisations, government representatives, academia, bloggers and international organisations to discuss the continuous infringement of press freedom in Uganda.
Speaking during her opening remarks, US Embassy Deputy Chief of Mission Patricia Mahoney bemoaned the harassment of journalists by security operatives during elections in Uganda. ‘’We are living at a time when journalists around the world continue to be harassed and sometimes even killed,’’ she pointed out. ‘’Recent efforts (in Uganda) to infringe the press are a big step in the wrong direction,’’ she added.
Makerere University’s Lecturer, Adolf Mbaine, who presented a paper on Uganda’s media regulation, said, ‘’Statutory regulation of the media needs to be reviewed. It does not promote press freedom.’’ He made a case for media self-regulation by reiterating that the (media) industry needs to have its own remedies for regulation outside the control of government.
Bloggers and social media enthusiasts also played a key role in driving discussions on freedom of expression during the event. Through a twitterstorm using the hashtag #ThisisFreedom, they shared their experiences on past violations of press freedom in Uganda.
The event also hosted a panel session on the role of non-traditional media in promoting freedom of expression spaces. Popular artists, social media activists and creatives debated on the need to expand free expression beyond traditional media to include the creative arts. They shared experiences of the current contexts in Uganda that affect their work.
Popular musician Robert Kyagulanyi (known as Bobi Wine) said that there has been a ban of songs from radio that are perceived to be critical of the government. ‘’Everyone should be allowed to express themselves regardless of whatever medium they are using,’’ he added.
The event culminated in the launch of Hivos East Africa’s new programme: Connecting Voices of the Citizens to promote and protect civic spaces in Uganda at a gathering with partners from the Embassy of Sweden, government and civil society.
In his key remarks, Sweden’s Ambassador to Uganda, Urban Andersson, spoke of World Press Freedom Day as a fundamental occasion to reflect on the challenges and opportunities of freedom of expression. “Freedom of expression, independent media, a vibrant cultural sector and universal access to knowledge, are indispensable for development, democracy and good governance,’’ he said.
He further commended Hivos’ approach to freedom of expression both through traditional and new media by seeking to expand the civic spaces.