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Court halts UCC directive to suspend 39 journalists

UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi

UCC executive director Godfrey Mutabazi

The High court in Kampala has issued a temporary injunction restraining Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and its agents from enforcing a directive issued on April 30 to 13 media organizations to suspend at least 39 journalists. 

UCC issued an order to six TV stations; NBS TV, BBS TV, NTV, Bukedde TV, Kingdom TV and Salt TV as well as seven radio stations; Akaboozi,, Beat FM, Capital FM, Pearl FM, Sapientia FM and Radio Simba to suspend the producer, head of news and head of programmes over their coverage of the arrest of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine and the subsequent riots that broke out in parts of Kampala city on April 29.

On Thursday, High court Justice Lydia Mugambe, ruled that UCC's directive was illegal since it contravened with the journalists' rights of freedom of speech, expression, publication among others all enshrined in the Constitution of Uganda.

Mugambe also said that it is unacceptable for security agencies to continue using vague, wild claims of "national security breaches" as a magic word to violate people's rights. Mugambe wondered why UCC didn't report the accused media houses and journalists to police if they violated any law.

Mugambe argued that after UCC issued its directive on April 30, it held a meeting with National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) on May 7, to discuss with them what the directive was all about yet the court proceedings had commenced on May 2. 

Mugambe has now issued an interim order pending the disposal of the main application for judicial review filed by Uganda Journalists Association (UJA) and their lawyers Henry Byansi and Ronald Bwire against UCC.

UCC was dragged to court in two separate suits filed by UJA and lawyers Byansi and Bwire who argued that the directive to media houses to immediately suspend 39 journalists pending conclusion of the investigations was an infringement on the constitutional rights of the journalists. 

The Commission had in its April 30 directive, demanded that within three days from the date when it was issued, the media houses  submit to them the names, particulars and qualifications of the subject office holders.

It also demanded that within three days the media houses submit the recordings of all live programs and news bulletins aired on the April 29. However, the journalists through their umbrella Association, UJA demanded an interim order stopping UCC from implementing the directive. 

UCC through its lawyer Abdul Salaam Waiswa objected arguing that by granting the said order, its powers to regulate the media houses will have been reduced. Waiswa that as of now they will go with what court has determined until the main case is determined. 

The journalists who were at court welcomed the ruling saying it has been long overdue.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd