The spirit in which Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) directed Monitor Publications Limited (MPL) to shut down it’s news website, Daily Monitor following a complaint by the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga is aimed at suppressing press freedom, media experts have said.
In a letter dated Wednesday 6th February, 2019 directing MPL to shut down its news website, the UCC Executive Director, Eng. Godfrey Mutabazi argued that the company has published fake news on a news website for which it has no licence to operate.
Daily Monitor last week reported that Damian Akuze, a traditional healer from Kamuli district, had filed a suit in the Jinja High court against Kadaga for allegedly refusing to pay him over Uganda shilling 200M for his witchcraft that allegedly propelled her to her current position of speakership.
Referring to the commission’s March 20, 2018, and April 4, 2018 statement requesting all providers of online data communication services including online newspaper services to apply for licences, Mutabazi said MPL did not apply.
And on Kadaga’s complaint, Mutabazi said; “reference is made to a complaint dated February 4, 2019, from the Office of Speaker of Parliament of Uganda wherein the Speaker states that Monitor Publication Limited through its online news platform allegedly published fake news against the person of the Speaker with the intention of damaging her reputation.”
Mutabazi said investigations are being undertaken to ascertain whether MPL published the story in accordance with the expected standards and code of ethics of journalism.
Mutabazi thus directed; “that Monitor Publications should immediately suspend any further provision of online data communication services (online paper services) until MPL has applied for and obtained the requisite authorization from the commission in accordance with the law and communication’s earlier public directives.”
He said the company should within five days submit explanations as to why they failed to balance the story when they failed to get Kadaga’s side before publication and why criminal proceeding should not be instituted against MPL for operating a news website without licence.
But Human Rights Network for Journalists Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) National Coordinator, Robert Sempala told this publication that UCC’s directive not fair and is an attempt to gag the press. Sempala argues that Kadaga paced to UCC instead of court of law well aware that offence of publication of false news was struck down from the Penal Code.
Veteran journalists and member of Independent Media Council, Haruna Kanabi argues that Daily Monitor published a legitimate story picked from documents submitted in court. The speaker, he argues should clear her name through court not through gagging the press.
It’s absurd, Kanabi says for the speaker who heads an institution meant to check excesses of other institutions to try to use UCC to promote excesses.