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Journalism Blocked, Information Seized
Today, May 3, 2021, Unwanted Witness Uganda has released a new report, Journalism Blocked, Information Seized. The report focuses on the impact of Internet Shutdown to the important role media plays during elections including the economic impact of the blockage to individual journalists and media outlets.
The report investigated the hardships field journalists encountered in the process of sourcing for and delivering information to the newsrooms, the unplanned extra expenses media managers incurred and losses made as well as implications of these shortcomings to the citizens’ enjoyment of freedom of expression, access to information and meaningful participation in the electoral process.
Invasion freedom of Expression
Government of Uganda seems to normalize arbitrary Internet shutdown during elections period. The 2021 shutdown was the second unprecedented internet blockage in Uganda after the double internet shutdown in 2016, on the eve of voting day and presidential inauguration.
According to the report, 80% of the journalists who covered elections in Uganda were unable to meaningfully gather adequate information related to the 2021 general elections, throughout the period when internet was shutdown.
For bloggers and online publishers, their right to work was suspended as they continue to register income loses while consumers of their information experienced a total information blackout.
Undermining Citizen Participation
The report demonstrates that media censorship via internet shutdown eroded the ability of citizens to access information and meaningfully exercise their civic duty. The country experienced a shutdown at a time when the government had announced digital political campaigns, as a measure to contain the spread of Coronavirus.
A free and fair election is not all about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about policies, candidates and the electoral process itself in order to make informed choices.
The report recommends that government should stop arbitrary internet shutdown and institute guidelines that meet international human rights standards.
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