AUGUST 28, 2010: Respect Press Freedom, Says Church

Respect Press Freedom, Says Church

SOURCE: The Monitor

In the third part of the epistle, Catholic bishops say the army and the police should be non-partisan in next year’s election. The bishops say media freedom is vital for participatory democracy.

Election supervision and monitoring is the process of supervising the entire electoral process to ensure that the electoral Law that governs the elections is observed: ensuring regular, impartial, objective elections, guaranteeing voters and candidates the free exercise of their rights.

Therefore, there must be safeguards during elections by the body in charge of election supervision to establish in a timely manner the revision of voters’ lists, the distribution of voters’ cards, the timely printing of electoral materials, the publication of the list of polling stations on time, the composition of members of polling stations, thereby ensuring the smooth conduct of elections campaigns.

Media Freedom
“Information is among the principal instruments of democratic participation. Participation without an understanding of the situation of the political community, the facts and the proposed solutions to problems is unthinkable. It is necessary to facilitate conditions of equality in the possession and use of the instruments of information and communications. Special attention must be given to the phenomenon of the news media to be controlled by just a few people or groups”. [The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church # 414].

We note with great concern that media freedom globally is under threat. In Uganda this pressure on media is also present. Yet we recognise that freedom of expression is a vital key to achieving participatory democracy. It involves the right to voice peoples’ opinions, have access to information and free exchange of ideas.

This right is protected by the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Article 19 (i) without any exception or restriction. Therefore, this includes the freedom of the press which facilitates the flow of information among people.

Of late there has been a noticeable crack down on media freedom, contrary to the press rights protected and recognised both under international law and the 1995 Constitution. We should understand that free media plays an indispensable role in the proper functioning of a democracy.

Particularly, the media function as a “watch dog”. By scrutinising and discussing the successes and failures of governments, the media can inform the public of how effectively its representatives have performed and help to hold them to account.

The media are very important in enabling full public participation in elections, not only by reporting on the performance of government, but also in a number of other ways: for instance, educating voters on how to exercise their democratic rights, reporting on the development of the election campaign, providing a platform for political parties to communicate their message to the electorate, allowing the parties to debate with each other and reporting results and monitoring vote counting.

The notion that democracy works better when the people know what their government is doing should be respected. However, while the above is true, we would like also to caution the people of Uganda that media freedom is not in any way a ticket to abuse that freedom.

Freedom must go with responsibility. We strongly desire to see free, independent and responsible journalism that works to promote the common good for all. It is very crucial to note that free and fair elections will thrive well when there is an independent, mature and responsible media. “The media must be used to build up and sustain the human community in its different sectors: economic, political, cultural, educational and religious. The information provided by the media should be at the service of the common good. Society has a right to information based on truth, freedom, justice and solidarity.” [The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church# 415]. Our expectations of the media are that it should be educative, informative, balanced, constructive and responsible.

Security agencies
The army and police should be restored to their proper roles and responsibilities: the protection and defence of the people’s lives and their property. Misplacement of security forces may bring back the memories of a past history that still lingers in the minds of the people where such forces were used in harassing civilians, destroying property and killing. As a result people lost all confidence in the armed forces and the police.

We appreciate government efforts to restore the trust and dignity of the armed forces and the police who can now be among the people and work amicably with them. However, what we see now is that there is a tendency of repeating the mistakes of the past and the result is a diminishing trend of trust and respect of both the police and the army. Involving them in partisan politics is a danger that is developing and yet they need to remain forces by the people and for the people and must NOT be for individuals or the ruling authority.

Article 208(2) of the Constitution provides that the UPDF shall be non-partisan, national in character, patriotic, professional, disciplined, and productive and subordinate to the civilian authority as established by the Constitution.
It should be noted that the army contributes to democracy as a state organ. It protects the territorial integrity and security from internal and external subversion.

Therefore, the army should hold the responsibility for the protection and the creation of a peaceful atmosphere necessary for democratic activities. In past elections, the army has been identified with harassment, intimidation and violence during campaigns and during voting, which in many cases subverted the will of the people.

Having seen the numerous atrocities committed by the army since independence, a new face of the army is being advocated for, especially during this period of preparation for elections.

In order to have a disciplined army and to safeguard the Constitution, we must develop a literate and political force which can preserve the Constitution. The army must not get involved in political organs but must serve the interests of the nation as opposed to group or individual interests.

We cannot develop a democratic free and fair electoral system that can ensure people’s true participation and representation unless there exist a disciplined and professional army. We are very much aware of the historical role the army has played in destabilisation and destruction of rule of law and constitutionalism in this country. This calls for proper streamlining and identification of an agreeable and Constitutional role for the army in the electoral process.

The continued alliance of the army with politicians must be checked because it will result in the destruction of this country and the continued violation of the fundamental human rights and freedoms of the electorate. The army must resist individual domination.

Therefore, the role of the army in the electoral process must be constitutionally constituted, non-partisan and non-sectarian. This will help the country to overcome the bad history of electoral chaos, violence and intimidation contrary to the will of the people.

URL Address: http://www.monitor.co.ug/News/National/-/688334/998222/-/x4kasv/-/index.html

Comments