Journalists won’t require media council accreditation to cover 2021 polls – EC

Press Freedom
The Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Uganda (FCAU) has always been concerned over a series of abuses aimed at journalists covering Uganda’s general elections.

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Journalists who have not re-registered will now be free to do their expected duties during the elections without fear of arrest as the Uganda Media Council has directed in a circular to police all over the country.

Although the Electoral Commission [EC] had earlier required journalists to clear with the Media Council before it can accredit them to cover the 2021 general elections, they have rescinded the position.

In the latest circular by the Electoral Commission [EC] vice chairperson Hajjat Aisha Lubega to city and district returning officers, the commission has issued guidance on the criteria needed to accredit journalists who wish to cover the forthcoming general election.

According to the circular, all journalists who wish to cover the electoral process will be granted access as long as they have identification from their media houses.

“Media personnel will only be required to present a valid identification/press cards issued by their media houses in order to access the polling stations and respective district/city tally centres,” the circular reads in part.

However, each returning officer is told not to allow more than two reporters from one media house so as to comply with the COVID-19 standard operating procedures.

The EC communication brings to an end the days long stand off between editors and the media council over the contested registration requirement. While the media council had directed that police arrests any journalist found covering the elections without having re-registered with them, the editors questioned the very legality of the media council in the first place since it it is not lawfully constituted. The editors went to court seeking an injunction against a directive by the apparently unlawful body.

In December last year, the Electoral Commission [EC] had issued a statement indicating that the press would be required to prove their registration status with the respective regulatory authorities before being accredited to cover the polls.

The statement came at the backdrop of the Media Council’s directive requiring all journalists, both local and international to register within seven days for accreditation.

Since then, there has been a heated debate on timeliness, justification, and relevancy of the Media Council which media scholars and experts say is working illegally as it is not fully constituted as the law requires.

The Uganda Editors Guild, an umbrella body that brings together editors, senior journalists, and scholars of journalism petitioned the court seeking an order to restrain the media council and security organs from illegally and irrationally curtailing media and press freedom of journalists to cover the 2021 general election and other state events. Court had set January 10 to pronounce itself on the matter.

Robert Ssempala, the National Coordinator of Human Rights Network for Journalists says the development gives hope to journalists as the said accreditation by the media council had a series of challenges including rejection of some journalists applications.

Read Also: Foreign journalists in Uganda struggle to get accredited to cover elections

“Changing the rules of engagement in the middle of the process was not fair at all. We can only commend the Electoral Commission for this new development which we think will preserve media and individual journalists’ rights,” says Ssempala.

Alex Atuhaire, a member of the executive on the Uganda Editors’ Guild, notes the Electoral Commission has taken the right decision. He however notes that the move is not related to their petition filed in court.

Atuhaire says that in court, the editors’ guild is challenging the Media Council’s legality, and irregular registration and accreditation process which has far-reaching consequences even beyond the coverage of elections.