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New bill protects whistleblowers, but press freedom still undermined

The Ugandan parliament has passed a bill that protects individuals who disclose information on corruption or law-breaking in government or private bodies, reports ARTICLE 19. But Ugandan journalists are fighting for the right to do their jobs as press freedom violations escalated in the country in 2009 with countless radio stations shut down, say local rights groups.

The Whistleblowers Bill was approved by parliament on 3 March, and encourages transparency and accountability. It offers procedures for Ugandan citizens to report on corruption or improper conduct, internally or to external government bodies. The bill "prohibits retribution against those who make the disclosures in good faith, and waives criminal and civil penalties for disclosing secret information." Anyone who harasses a whistleblower can be subjected to criminal penalties. However, the bill does not protect those who go directly to the press or public. ARTICLE 19 is urging Uganda to go further and fully implement the 2005 Access to Information Act.

Meanwhile, authorities are still clamping down on the media. Journalists Robert Kalundi Sserumaga and Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala took the Broadcasting Council to court for suspending their radio talk shows, reports the Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda). The case was filed in November 2009 and the hearing was recently postponed for the second time. "Justice is delayed and denied," said Ssebaggala.

Last year, the Council banned programmes called "Ebimeeza" which offer a forum to encourage public participation, in order to hold authorities accountable for their actions. In 2009, at least 18 television and radio journalists were fired from their jobs. Also, hundreds of journalists behind the closed radio stations have not been able to make their grievances public for fear of reprisals.

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