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Ugandan reporters banned from covering Lord Mayor's press conferences

(HRNJ-Uganda/IFEX) - The Lord Mayor of Uganda's Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Elias Lukwago, has suspended journalists working with the Vision Group from covering his press conferences, accusing them of biased reporting. The government-owned Vision Group runs a number of government-owned news papers, television and radio stations. New Vision newspaper, on February 12 2013, published an article titled "IGG probes Lukwago over Chinese deal," which Lukwago said was biased and inaccurate.

On February 13, 2013, Lukwago threw four Vision Group journalists out of a press conference , saying they had not been invited due to biased reporting.“Before I start my address, I would like all journalists working for Robert Kabushenga or Vision Group to leave immediately. I did not invite you to this press briefing and I do not expect you to be here,” Lukwago is quoted to have said.

Those thrown out include Hannington Nkalubo of Bukedde Newspaper, Juliet Waiswa of New Vision, Ssekagya Charles of Bukedde radio and Jeff Andrew Lule of Bukkedde television.

Lukwago had called the press to refute a New Vision article. The article inquired into a botched deal, where Foton East African Ltd— a Chinese company that supplies buses, garbage trucks and lorries— sought to introduce its automobiles in Uganda. The article discussed complaints that Lukwago had obtained money from the company.

“I had informed them earlier not to attend the press conference in question. When they insisted and came, I had to ask them [to get] out, and they went out peacefully. I banned any journalist from Vision Group from attending my upcoming press conferences,” Lukwago told HRNJ-Uganda, adding that ”I have been inviting them to my press conferences and other activities since I became Lord Mayor in 2011, but they are biased and report negatively about me. They can cover other functions at city hall, but not my press conferences.”

The Mayor's ban comes a fortnight after the Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga, banned two journalists from The Observer publications from covering the August House over news articles she said were inaccurate.

The journalists have since dragged her to court, challenging the ban. The victim Vision Group journalists told HRNJ-Uganda that they had never had problems with Lukwago since they started reporting at city hall some years ago. The Chief Executive officer of New Vision, Robert Kabushenga ruled out any confrontation with Lukwago, “I have been informed of the ban, but we shall not get into confrontation with Lukwago. It is ok if he banned our four journalists, we won't go back to him.” Kabushenga told HRNJ-Uganda.

“This approach of arbitrarily suspending journalists from covering news events is prejudicial to freedom of expression and information. It is dangerous for the media, and should therefore not be condoned. It amounts to abuse of authority and violates the constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression and information. Should the office bearers be aggrieved by journalistic work, they should resort to amicable settlements or seek legal redress,” said HRNJ-Uganda's National coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.

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