• Francis Obonyo
  • No Comments

Court cancels the directives of the Media Council of Uganda on grounds of irregularity

CASE: Editors Guild Uganda Limited & Centre for Public Interest Law Limited V Attorney General Miscellaneous Cause No. 400 Of 2020

Facts: On 10th and 20th December 2020, the Media Council of Uganda issued press statements with directives on “Guidelines for Media Council of Uganda Accreditation of Journalists for Coverage of 2021 Election and Other State Events”. The statements among others provide for the registration and accreditation of all journalists in Uganda (local and foreign) by Media Council of Uganda to cover the forthcoming 2021 general elections. The statements further provided that no journalist would be allowed to cover any elections and State events without a press tag issued by the Council. On 30th December 2020, the Deputy Inspector General of Police issued a press statement that reiterates the position to block journalists from covering political campaigns and other electoral events without the accreditation from the Media Council. On 31st December 2020, the Editors Guild Uganda and the Centre for Public Interest Law (CEPIL) applied for judicial review of the directives of the Media Council of Uganda under Miscellaneous Cause No. 400 of 2020. The application sought to quash and challenge the legality of the directives to register and accredit journalists to cover the 2021 general elections and other State events.

 Issue: The main issue for determination was whether the “Guidelines for Media Council of Uganda Accreditation of Journalists for Coverage of 2021 Elections and Other Events” were illegal, irrational, and procedurally improper?

 Judgment: According to the Judge’s analysis, S. 8(1) of the Press and Journalist Act establishes the Media Council and S. 9(1) defines the function of the Media Council. Under S. 16(1) of the Press and of the same Act, a person may apply to the executive committee for full membership or associate membership, and the committee shall, if it is satisfied that the applicant is an eligible person, inform the general assembly to approve the enrolment of the applicant as a full member or associate member of the institute on payment of the prescribed fee.  Under section 16(2) upon the enrolment of a person under subsection (1), the general secretary shall cause to be issued to a certificate of enrolment. Under S. 26, the name and particulars of a person enrolled under the Act shall, on presentation of the certificate of enrolment to the council, be entered on the register of journalists of Uganda and S. 27 of the Act mandates the Media Council to issue annual practising certificates to journalists enrolled under the Act.

According to evidence presented before the court by both parties, it was not in dispute that the National Institute of Journalism Uganda (NIJU) is dysfunctional and is not operating as envisaged in the law.

Following the above analysis and statement, the court deduced that there is no enrolment of members to the institute under S. 16(1) of the Act. Therefore, it would follow that the Certificate of enrolment cannot be issued under S. 16(2). If the certificate of enrolment cannot be issued, then registration of journalists under S. 26 of the Act is not achievable and therefore, a practising certificate cannot be issued as provided for under S. 27 of the Act by the Council. Registration or issuance of a certificate by the Media Council without following the legally provided procedure is illegal and would amount to a procedural irregularity.

Therefore, the court held it was illegal and irregular for the Media Council to embark on registering and accrediting journalists (both local and international) to participate in the 2021 general elections.

Ruling: The Court ruled and ordered the following among others;

  1. An order of certiorari is hereby issued quashing the directives of the Media Council of Uganda issued in the press statements made on the 10th and 20th December 2020 directing journalists to register and be accredited in order to cover the 2021 general elections and other State events for being illegal (ultra vires) and irrational.
  2. An order of certiorari is issued quashing the illegal registration and accreditation of journalists to cover the 2021 general elections and other State events by the Media Council of Uganda for being illegal and irregular, and procedurally irregular.
  3. An order of prohibition is issued restraining the Media Council of Uganda and any other regulatory agents of Government and security organs from illegally and irrationally curtailing media and press freedom of journalists to cover the 2021 general elections and other State events.
  4. An order of permanent injunction is hereby issued restraining the Respondent’s Security agencies from implementing the illegal and irrational directives of the Media Council of Uganda restraining journalists from covering the 2021 General Election and other State events.
  5. It is declared that the registration of journalists by the Media Council of Uganda without an operational National Institute of Journalists Act is illegal, irrational and procedurally irregular.
  6. It is declared that the Respondents failure to operationalize the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda established under the Press and Journalists Act is illegal and irrational.