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INTERNATIONAL DAY ON UNIVERSAL ACCESS TO INFORMATION

28.09.2017  14:44
Today, the Danish Ambassador spoke on behalf of EU at a
roundtable on information, democracy and development in the digital era at Makere University. The event was attended by
ambassadors, academia, civil society organisations and journalists.

“The right to access to information is an important human right and a precursor for informed engagement and dialogue on matters of national interest leading to democracy, justice and inclusive development”, the Ambassador said.

Uganda was the first African country to enable laws to promote and protect the right to access to information. However, as the ambassador underlined, at several recent occasions this right has been hampered. In 2016, social media was shut down during and after the general elections. Last Tuesday, citizens were denied access to real time updates of proceedings within the Parliament when discussing the removal of age limit in the Constitution as the live TV broadcasting was disrupted.  

Read the full speech from the Ambassador below:

Remarks by Mogens Pedersen, the Ambassador of Denmark to Uganda at the Conference held at Golf Course Hotel Kampala, to mark the International Day on Universal Access to Information, 2017

Roundtable on Access to Information in the digital era and as enabler for democracy and development. Challenges and opportunities in Uganda.

Hon. Members of Parliament present,

Ambassadors and members of the Diplomatic Corps

Representatives from Academia, Media Houses, Networks of Journalists, Civil Society

Organisations, and Press Associations

Ladies and Gentlemen, (all protocols observed)

It is a great pleasure for me to speak on behalf of the EU, on this day when we observe the International Day for Universal Access to Information.

Over the past decade, democracies across the world have seen the rapid development of social media. Online newspapers, blogs, tweets and the like have created a new type of journalism and given citizens the opportunity to participate in - and learn from - an open debate at local, national and global level.

There can be no doubt that access to information is an essential element to engage citizens in matters of national development.

It is in this regard worth noting that Uganda, in 2005, was among the first African countries to enact a right to information law, the Access to Information Act, to promote the right to access to information, and hence promote an efficient, effective, transparent and accountable government.

However, despite the enabling law and the clear benefits, we must admit that access to information on several occasions has been hampered in Uganda. In the recent past, we have seen examples of citizens being denied access to timely information on key issues of national importance – for instance when social media was shut down during and after the general elections of 2016. We also note with regret that on Tuesday this week, the live TV broadcasts of the proceedings in Parliament were disrupted – thus denying citizens access to real time updates of events as they unfolded.

We also note with concern the directive issued by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) on 26th September 2017 warning media houses against broadcasting live feeds – which are in the view of UCC inciting the public and likely to create public insecurity and violence. We therefore call upon the responsible state agencies to respect

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the people’s right to access information in a timely manner as a basis for informed engagement and dialogue on matters of national interest.

On a different note, I fully recognise that social media can be misused, and across the world we see that social media is used for purposes of propaganda, populism and hate speech. But I also strongly believe that social media across the world is an important instrument to strengthen confidence between citizens and elected representatives. It is an open forum to share viewpoints in a non-violent manner, and therefore a key instrument to enhancing transparent debates on issues of national importance. As citizens and as governments our role must be to counter the misinformation campaigns on social media by encouraging positive open debates that give voice to the people.

The point I am making is that democracy grows and becomes resilient only once it is truly owned by the citizens. Citizens must participate, they have to raise their voice and they should be encouraged by the environment to do so.

In this regard, the inclusion of the voices of the youth is crucial. Not only are they ahead of many of us when it comes to the use of social media. They are also the future of our countries, and a meaningful dialogue between the young people, as well as CSOs, citizen's movements, academics and of course media, are powerful drivers for change and a great resource for a democratic country. It is fundamental for a vibrant, dynamic, peaceful and stable society.

Today we are focusing the debate on the media and free speech as we celebrate the International Day on Universal Access to Information.

The EU stands committed to defending the values of free expression and free media both online and offline and it stands ready to provide support including in capacity building and protection to journalists under threat, both in Europe and across the world. In this regard, the annual EU Human Rights Defenders Award in 2016 was given to a colleague from the Human Rights Network for Journalists (HRNJ) in Uganda. This was in recognition for HRNJ’s determination to bring to the limelight violations against media freedom and to document cases of media practitioners being assaulted by both politicians and security forces.

We are sure that today's discussions will be enriching mainly thanks to the variety and quality of the speakers, including academics, journalists, Members of Parliament media organisations and democracy practitioners. We look forward to the panellists bringing their different experiences and multidimensional insights into issues that require a multidimensional approach. We look forward to the contributions from the high level audience present today.

Thanks to Makerere University for hosting the event.