Article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights recognizes freedom of expression as a fundamental human right. Today the international media community pays tribute to the courage and professionalism of the many journalists and media professionals killed and wounded while carrying out their professional activities.
Today, I pay tribute to Williams Gonza, a radio presenter on the Fort Portal station, Life FM, who together with five regular panelists on his show have fought for the past four months for their right to speech, expression and access to the media.
On January 8th this year Gonza and the five panelists—Steven Rwagweri, Prosper Businge, Gerald Kakya, Joram Bintamanya, and David Rudomodora – were arrested and their live political debate programs “Twerwaneho” and “Ensonga Ha Nsonga” were ordered off the air.
The group was charged with defamation and incitement of violence for criticizing the interference of the Queen Mother of Tooro, Best Kemigisa, in the affairs of the Toro Kingdom. They were also accused of uttering defamatory statements former Tooro royal clan leader Charles Kamurasi, Fort Portal Municipality MP Steven Kaliba and the Kabarole NRM chairperson Godfrey Nyakahuma. The radio presenters reportedly claimed during programs on Life FM that the Queen Mother and her friends were behind an acid attack on a Life FM transmitter in October last year.
Last October, two guards working for Kemigisa were arrested for destroyed the station’s transmitter in Oruha Hill with acid in broad daylight.
After a successful legal battle, the High Court in Fort Portal on March 14th ordered for the reinstatement of two radio programs – Ensonga ha Nsonga and Twerwaneho. In his ruling Justice Rugadya Atwooki said the police had no legal mandate to ban the broadcast of a program. He said it was in direct contravention of Constitutional guarantees for fundamental rights of expression and freedom of speech.
However just when they thought they were in the clear, the Life FM journalists met another major roadblock. Last month the Broadcasting Council banned Williams Gonza and Steven Rwagweri from broadcasting on any radio station in Uganda. The Broadcasting Council said the ban would hold until a complaint against the professionalism of the two journalists is heard.
Gonza and Rwagweri have vowed to return to the airwaves, confident that they have done nothing wrong and the law is on their side.
They are my World Press Freedom Day heroes.
Here are a few World Press Freedom Day links that I found quite interesting today ~
The World Bank has released a study outlining conditions under which radio, television and online broadcasting can fulfill a vital role in development by making governments accountable, and giving voice to the world’s poor.
Article 19: Global Campaign for Press Freedom has regular updates on the progress of the media worldwide as well as a very useful legal guide on freedom of expression.
UNESCO is the official host of World Press Freedom Day 2008. It has a few thought-provoking op-eds on access to information and empowerment good links to other WPFD programs.
On press freedom news from around the world ~
In Pakistan, The Post, reports that the last 12 months were the worst year for the media in Pakistan. It says about 700 journalists faced physical violence while hundreds were harassed or threatened.
The Harare-based Financial Gazette laments the continued jailing of two Zimbabwean journalists on trumped up charges of torching a bus two weeks ago. It also reports that head of the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists is nursing injuries sustained when he was assaulted by uniformed forces.
The Nation, not the paper from next door, but the one in Thailand says WPFD is a day of mourning in the East Asian nation. It issues a stinging indictment against the Thai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, calling him a non-responsive leader who uses every trick of the trade to evade, lie and stonewall rather than provide facts and give an accurate picture of what is going on in the country on a day-to-day basis. The paper says he is rude, impolite and uses abusive language, both during interviews and in the commentaries on his programmes. He is extremely insensitive to gender and has no respect for female journalists.