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Foreign journalists accuse Uganda govt of denying them accreditation

Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, says "those foreign journalists are always reporting on rumours."

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MEDIA | Journalists working for foreign and international media from Uganda have accused the government of denying them crucial accreditation to both events and general operations.

Through their umbrella body, Foreign Correspondents Association of Uganda (FCAU), the correspondents have called on Ugandan government to ensure that all journalists working for international news media get access to crucial accreditation documents.

“Since late August, at least 10 journalists wishing to report in Uganda have not been given government accreditation despite fulfilling all requirements and following the right procedure,” FCAU said in a statement on Wednesday.

Section 29(1) of the Press and Journalists Act requires all foreign journalists who wish to report from Uganda to get accreditation from the Media Council through Uganda Media Centre, a government agency tasked with coordinating media-related engagements with the state.

Accreditation is processed following an application to the Executive Director of Uganda Media Centre. The correspondents are required to pay between Shs600,000 for a three-month permit and Shs800,000 to operate in the country for six months.

However, the journalists say that while they have in the past got their application cleared faster, things have got difficult since August when the State took up a stronger stance in its handling of journalists covering the brutal arrest of Opposition politicians and the subsequent protests.

“The process has been quick and straightforward in the past and it is important that this open relationship with Ugandan authorities continue,” FCAU said.

A local journalist working for a foreign news wire told Crime24 in confidence that they have been relying on “jungle skills” — using previous press cards — and “face value” to get their way around to doing their work.

Some correspondents also claim that they are denied accreditation to specific events that require accreditation within accreditation.

‘They report rumours’

But Ofwono Opondo, the executive director of Uganda Media Centre, laughed off the claims, instead taking a swipe at the correspondents whom he accused of always reporting “rumours.”

“Those foreigners [foreign journalists] report unready stories and are always Opposition-leaning. Now why do they need accreditation to cover false news?” Opondo said in a brief telephone interview.

However, Uganda Radio Network quotes Opondo as denying claims that government has stopped accrediting foreign journalists, that it has only tightened the process.

“Preventing international journalists from working in Uganda also adds to a troubling recent pattern of intimidation and violence against journalists. Stopping a number of international media houses from reporting legally in Uganda is another attempt to gag journalists,” FCAU said, calling on authorities in Uganda to allow the media to work freely and safely in the country.

According to Twaweza’s April 2018 ‘Sauti za Wananchi’ (Voices of the Citizens) survey on the media, two-in-three citizens say the media should be able to operate without government control while three-in-four said the media should constantly report on government mistakes and corruption.

 

 

But Museveni has often clashed with the same views that the media focuses on in response to citizenry and audience demands, saying the media targets only the bad about his government and therefore are dishonest.

In almost all his national addresses, Museveni reserves unkind words for the media. In the past, he has called some section of local press “agents of opposition,” “anti-development” and “enemy of the state.”

But in May, he attempted to mend fences when he hosted media executives for the inaugural presidential media round table at State House Entebbe, during he accused the media of never covering issues that are salient to Africa’s development.

“Most of your TVs are disgusting. Sometimes I don’t watch, sometimes I do. And when I do, I feel sorry for Africa,” Museveni, whose guerilla fighters engaged the service of foreign correspondents during the bush war that brought him to power, said.

And during his national address on Sunday, Museveni accused the media of always failing to report the truth, saying most media houses, both local and international, choose to report lies about himself and his government “even when the citizens on the ground can see the reality such as tarmac roads for themselves.”

Earlier in August when the military descended on journalists with fury and beat up those covering anti-government protests, the military condemned the brutal assault on journalists and apologised for it. But days later, President Museveni and defended the brutal assault on Reuters photographer James Akena, saying the soldiers who beat him up thought he was a camera thief.

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