Court to Rule on Application Challenging Accreditation of Journalists on Election Day

Lady Justice Esta Nambayo on Monday fixed the said date after directing the parties to put in written submissions.
An Executive Member of the Editors Guild Uganda Limited Pius Katunzi addressing journalists at high court in Kampala as the Interim Chairperson Daniel Kalinaki looks on.
The  High Court in Kampala has fixed January 14th 2021 to rule on an application in which two organizations are challenging a decision by the Uganda Media Council to have journalists registered and accredited for the general elections.

Lady Justice Esta Nambayo on Monday fixed the date after directing the parties to put in written submissions.  The parties included the lawyers representing Editors Guild Uganda Limited and Centre for Public Interest Law Limited and the  Attorney General who is representing the government.

The applicants who were being represented by former Uganda Law Society President Francis Gimara have been directed to put in their arguments in the case by tomorrow morning.  The Attorney General who was represented by State Attorney Geoffrey Madete will then reply on  Wednesday.

On December 31st 2020, the applicants petitioned the Civil Division of High Court challenging the December 10th directive by the Uganda  Media Council requiring all Journalists foreign and local to register within seven days, for accreditation to cover the forthcoming general election and other state events.

Subsequently, the Uganda police issued a notice on December 31 indicating that the police and sister security agencies shall recognize only those persons on the Media Council register during the coverage of political campaigns and other electoral events.

But the applicants challenged the registration and accreditation process for being illegal, and irregular and also for lack of a fully constituted Uganda Media Council.

They further argued that the registration of journalists by the Media Council of Uganda,  without an operational National Institute of Journalists of Uganda to enrol journalists under the Press and Journalist Act is illegal.

Court heard that the under the Press and Journalist Act, the Uganda  Media Council is only supposed to issue practising certificates to journalists who have presented certificates of enrollment issued by the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda (NIJU and paid the prescribed fees.

This is according to the evidence that was adduced before the courts by the affidavits of Daniel Kalinaki the Interim Chairperson for the Editors Guild Uganda Limited and Alfonse Obonyo the Acting Executive Director of Public Interest Law Limited. 

To this effect,  the applicants argued further that the Council did not state the required procedure, documents and requirements for registration and that the entire process was contrary to the guidelines enshrined under the Press and Journalist Act.

They asked the court to declare the said directive irrational since it was allegedly aimed at persecuting Journalists and curtailing the press freedoms enshrined in the Constitution.

But Gimara says media freedom is two way and especially in this scientific election, once the Journalists are not in the field to do their work, the citizens will have also be denied information since they will not be everywhere to know what is happening in the country.

Pius Katunzi an Executive Member of the Editors Guild Uganda Limited says that even though the ruling has been fixed on the national polling day, it is so important that if ruled in their favour, it will create precedence. Katunzi says this is because it is not restricted only to these coming elections but also it will have an impact on the subsequent state events.

On January 6 2021, the Deputy Chairperson of the Electoral Commission Aisha Lubega Basajjanaku stated Returning Officers in the country saying that Journalists should only present their work station Identification Cards to be allowed access to cover the elections.

"The above media personnel will only be allowed to present their valid identification press cards issued by their media houses in order go access polling dragons and the respective district/City Tally Center", read her statement in part.

The matters come at the time when the country has only three days left to elect presidential and parliamentary candidates.