Me­dia in East Africa un­der threat from puni­tive laws

Rights groups re­cently pro­duced a report doc­u­ment­ing 16 in­ci­dents of death threats against jour­nal­ists

The East African - - NEWS - A JOINT REPORT The Eastafrican

In Kenya, al­though free­dom of the me­dia is guar­an­teed in the Con­sti­tu­tion, there are sev­eral Acts of Par­lia­ment that du­pli­cate the roles of dif­fer­ent agen­cies.

For ex­am­ple, while the Me­dia Act 2013 gives the Me­dia Coun­cil of Kenya pow­ers to reg­u­late the in­dus­try with an es­tab­lished in­de­pen­dent com­plaints com­mis­sion to han­dle com­plaints against jour­nal­ists, the Kenya In­for­ma­tion and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Amend­ment Act es­tab­lishes a tri­bunal that has the pow­ers to im­pose fines on jour­nal­ists and me­dia houses, who are found guilty.

In ad­di­tion, some clauses in the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ser­vice Act 2014, and the Me­dia Au­thor­ity Act 2013 clearly limit press free­dom and free­dom of ex­pres­sion. Ar­ti­cle 12 of the Act states that a per­son who pub­lishes, broad­casts or causes to be pub­lished or distributed, through print, dig­i­tal or elec­tronic means, in­sult­ing, threat­en­ing, or in­cit­ing ma­te­rial or im­ages of dead or in­jured per­sons which are likely to cause fear and alarm to the gen­eral pub­lic or dis­turb pub­lic peace is li­able to a fine not ex­ceed­ing $48,543 or im­pris­on­ment for a term not ex­ceed­ing three years or both.

Hu­man Rights Watch and Ar­ti­cle 19 which de­fends free­dom of ex­pres­sion and in­for­ma­tion re­cently pro­duced a report de­tail­ing how Kenyan au­thor­i­ties have com­mit­ted a range of abuses against jour­nal­ists re­port­ing on sen­si­tive is­sues.

The two or­gan­i­sa­tions doc­u­mented 16 in­ci­dents of di­rect death threats against jour­nal­ists and blog­gers across the coun­try in re­cent years, and cases in which po­lice ar­bi­trar­ily ar­rested, de­tained and later re­leased with­out charge at least 14 jour­nal­ists and blog­gers.

In Uganda, free­dom of ex­pres­sion and the press is con­sti­tu­tion­ally guar­an­teed un­der Ar­ti­cle 29 which in sec­tion 1(b) states that “free­dom of speech and ex­pres­sion shall in­clude free­dom of the press and other me­dia.” These are op­er­a­tionalised un­der the Press and Jour­nal­ism Act and Elec­tronic Me­dia Act.

How­ever, Uganda has crim­i­nal defama­tion on the law books, even while the African Court on Hu­man and Peo­ple’s Rights has pre­vi­ously ruled that im­pris­on­ment over defama­tion vi­o­lates free­dom of ex­pres­sion.

The le­gal regime is re­plete with re­stric­tions in­clud­ing crim­i­nal defama­tion and sedi­tion that re­main on the law books, no­tably the Pe­nal Code Act.

Laws like the Anti-ter­ror­ism Act of 2001 holds jour­nal­ists crim­i­nally li­able if they are found com­mu­ni­cat­ing with a ter­ror­ist or ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion. Jour­nal­ists could also fall foul of the law for among oth­ers “pro­mot­ing ter­ror­ism” purely be­cause of their work.

This law, in ad­di­tion to oth­ers like the Of­fen­sive Com­mu­ni­ca­tions which was passed un­der the Com­puter Mis­use Act are used by po­lice to ha­rass jour­nal­ists and edi­tors. Other laws that are a threat to the me­dia in­clude the An­tipornog­ra­phy Act, which carry penal­ties for pub­lish­ers.

Since the scuf­fle in par­lia­ment late Septem­ber over the age limit for the pres­i­dent that was broad­cast live, the Uganda Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Com­mis­sion has closed a ra­dio sta­tion in Ka­nungu district in the west­ern part of the coun­try, which was con­sid­ered against the age-limit amend­ment, cit­ing min­i­mum broad­cast­ing stan­dards.

Hu­man Rights Net­work for Jour­nal­ists (Hrnj)-uganda says UCC cites min­i­mum broad­cast­ing stan­dards but does not fol­low due process, and that it over-steps its man­date when it asks me­dia houses to sus­pend staff.

In Tan­za­nia, the Me­dia Ser­vices Act 2016 that was signed by Pres­i­dent John Magu­fuli early this year, gives the gov­ern­ment more pow­ers to in­ter­ro­gate jour­nal­ists. Sec­tion 60 gives the In­for­ma­tion Min­is­ter the power to im­ple­ment the me­dia Ser­vices Act 2016 with­out fur­ther con­sul­ta­tion with lawyers and other me­dia stake­hold­ers.

Sec­tion 55 of the Act also gives the min­is­ter full pow­ers to ban any pub­li­ca­tion or news­pa­per that prints in­for­ma­tion thought to af­fect the na­tional se­cu­rity and pub­lic health. Sec­tion 52 and 50 (2) pro­vides a penalty of three to five years in prison or a fine of be­tween $2,250 and $7,500 for in­ten­tion­ally pub­lish­ing in­for­ma­tion that threat­ens na­tional se­cu­rity, pub­lic safety, pub­lic or­der, the coun­try’s eco­nomic in­ter­ests, pub­lic moral­ity or pub­lic health, or that in­jures the rep­u­ta­tion, rights and free­dom of other per­sons. Fur­ther­more, the law warns any­one who im­ports me­dia ma­te­rial or pub­lishes it, could be jailed for be­tween five and 10 years, or pay a fine of be­tween $3,600 and $9,000. By Dicta Asi­imwe, Eric Oduor, Christo­pher Kidanka and Fred Oluoch.

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