Journalists in Uganda face intimidation and violence on a nearly daily basis. They are regularly targeted by the security services, the leading perpetrators of attacks against journalists.
More than 200 radio stations and some 30 television networks are operating in the country, many of them belonging to members or supporters of the National Resistance Movement, the ruling party. There are numerous state-owned media outlets, influential and loyal to Yoweri Museveni, who has ruled the country since 1986. Some privately owned media do produce quality content, such as those owned by the Nation Media Group: KFM, Dembe FM, NTV, NBS and The East African, a weekly that sets a standard for journalism in the region.
President Museveni does not tolerate criticism and regularly indulges in hateful commentary against the press. In 2021, he threatened to force the Daily Monitor, the country’s leading daily, into bankruptcy. In late 2022, it was the turn of the president’s son, General Muhoozi Kainerugaba, to threaten to “crush” journalists and to accuse the Daily Monitor’s journalists of being “terrorists”. Authorities often interfere directly in programming by asking that certain TV reports be cut or, as in 2019, sending the police to three privately owned radio stations to cut short interviews with an opposition politician. The media regulatory agency is directly controlled by the government.
The constitution guarantees freedom of the press, but in practice the media are hindered by a series of laws, including those on fraudulent digital activity, anti-terrorism and public order. In 2021, the constitutional court rejected appeals by journalist associations against draconian legal provisions against the media. A law on access to information does exist, but journalists face many obstacles, and pressure for self-censorship when they seek information of public interest. Two journalists spent three weeks in prison after being arrested in May 2021 for alleged defamation. In October 2022, the president signed an amendment to the law on the misuse of computers that, among other things, criminalised the publication of “fake news”, but the Constitutional Court removed this provision in early 2023.
Journalists are among the country’s worst-paid professionals. Work contracts are rare, and only a few reporters make more than 200 dollars (about 180 euros) a month. Their financial insecurity makes them susceptible to corruption.
Several media outlets belong to religious groups, some of which are aligned with the government, such as the Pentecostal movement, very influential in the country, which includes the president’s wife and daughter in its ranks.
Kidnapping, violence, illegal confinement, arrest, confiscation of equipment – these are some of the consequences that journalists face if they criticise the government. Museveni’s re-election to a sixth term in 2021 followed an especially repressive electoral campaign, with more than 40 attacks against media organisations and journalists. Officials resorted to censorship – an Internet blackout – and disinformation, accusing some journalists of being CIA agents. The surveillance of reporters was heightened by the June 2017 creation of a unit of security officers and high-tech experts assigned, among other tasks, to monitor journalists’ social media posts. In March 2022, the police stormed the premises of a TV channel critical of the government, seizing equipment and arresting nine journalists.