Reporters Without Borders warned the Ugandan government today about its hardline approach to journalists covering the 23 February presidential election and, in particular, condemned the latest coercive measures it has taken with the foreign media.
“If nothing is done to ensure the press is free to do its work, these elections will take place in a climate of intimidation,” Reporters Without Borders said. “If the government wants the world to say the elections were free, fair and transparent, it should heed our call for a change in attitude. The Media Centre recently set up to monitor and punish the foreign press is utterly illegitimate and should be disbanded.”
On 3 January, foreign correspondents working in Kampala were summoned to the government’s newly-created Media Centre for re-examination of the accreditation they had received from the Media Council, a body that regulates press.
Headed by Robert Kabushenga, a former lawyer and columnist for the pro-government New Vision newspaper, and with a staff that includes two intelligence agents, the Media Centre is closely controlled by the government. As a first step, all correspondents have been ordered not to travel more than 100 km from the capital without the Media Centre’s express permission.
Kabushenga told the BBC’s Uganda correspondent Will Ross on 9 January he was “not happy” with his coverage and warned him that his accreditation could be in danger. “I was told any extension would depend on how I reported in the meantime,” Ross recounted to Uganda’s independent Daily Monitor newspaper.
A few days later, the length of Ross’ accreditation was cut from a year to four months. Last month, he had filed a report for the BBC about the death of seven civilians in a refugee camp in the troubled north.
Canadian journalist Blake Lambert, a correspondent for two US newspapers, the Washington Times and Christian Science Monitor, and for the London-based weekly The Economist, is meanwhile still waiting for his new accreditation. He often takes part in talk-shows on KFM, an independent radio station that is part of the same press group as the Daily Monitor, which is subject to frequent harassment from the authorities.
A foreign journalist who asked not to be identified said he had received a threatening phone call from Kabushenga. At one point Kabushenga reportedly said: “You want a war? I will give you a war!”
Information minister James Nsaba Buturo defended the Media Centre at a press briefing on 19 January, saying it was intended to “help” the Media Council reach its decisions. Calling the foreign press a “security concern,” he said, “some people come into the country with other intentions.” He added: “We are doing this in the interest of the people of Uganda. We are in power, we are the government of the day and we are satisfied with this kind of arrangement.”