The media are vital institutions charged with providing information to the public and a platform for the debate and exchange of ideas and information. The media also perform the watchdog role that entails conducting investigations and holding those in positions of authority to account. It is on the basis of this crucial role that the media merit protection from interference.
However, media freedom, like any other political freedom is not absolute but is subject to restrictions. These are aimed at safeguarding other rights and freedoms. The restrictions on media freedom should not result because a publication is offensive but must serve a legitimate purpose.
It is against this background that the study of freedom of expression on the web is conducted. The study examines the legal, non-legal, social-cultural, editorial and technical restrictions imposed on news websites in Uganda. It assesses the justifications for the restrictions and how they impact on media output.
A qualitative research approach was employed in collecting and interpreting data. Information was gathered by way of interviews, document analysis and an analysis of five news websites.
The findings revealed that there was no specific law to regulate publication on news websites, which has led to speculation about the boundaries of expression on the web. Nevertheless, the Internet is restricted by media legislation on issues including terrorism, defamation and criminal libel.
Other communication-related laws like the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act, the law on copyright and the Computer Misuse Bill may restrict publication on news websites.
It was also illustrated that societal values on moral issues have influenced media houses to censor the publication of articles on homosexuality, pornography and nudity and bestiality.
Furthermore, technological glitches such as Internet hacks restricted access to news websites, thereby affecting media output. I noted that the restrictions may have had a hand in putting some independent news websites out of business.
Nevertheless, the major news websites have continued to publish regularly, which attests to relative media freedom on the web in Uganda.