Parliament Vs Media: It is not Parliament’s place to dictate editorial content
The row between Parliament and media deepens as both sides defiantly refuse to acknowledge each other’s limitations and roles. Members of Parliament accuse media of reporting only negative stories whereas media says it is not the work of journalists to make Parliament look good, but rather the work of the public relations office.
Parliament has been at logged heads with journalists since the 9th Parliament, as Observer journalists were banned from covering the plenary session. In 2015 the then Secretary General of the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA), Moses Kajangu, on January 15 petitioned the court after the house communicated new requirements for journalists who wish to cover business when the 10th Parliament begins sitting in May.
On Tuesday 27th September 2016, the Speaker of parliament Rt Hon Kadaga threatened to sue journalists who publish what she deemed as negative stories about the House and Members
The stories that were published by Daily Monitor, about MPs getting UGX 200M for cars and the UGX 68M to be spent on the each MP’s funeral and another by the Observer claiming that 78 MPs had travelled to attend the UNAA convention in the USA, were false and depicted the institution in bad light and that Parliament journalists are working with “enemies” of Parliament to taint its image
Parliament’s Rules of Procedure under Rule 163 clearly state the functions of the Rules, Privilege and discipline committee as follows:
(a) to inquire into any complaint of contempt of Parliament or breach of privilege or any matter of privilege which may be referred to it and to recommend to the House such action as the Committee may consider appropriate.
(b) to consider any matter of discipline referred to it by the Speaker or the House including attendance of Members at sittings of Committees, and to report its findings to the House;
On Wednesday 5th October 2016 the committee on Rules Privilege and Discipline, chaired, Hon Kenneth Ongalo Obote, Kalaki County MP, summoned editors to media houses, out of all the named media houses editors of The Observer, Uganda Radio Network, a news agency and Red Pepper newspaper declined to appear before the committee to respond to allegations of writing negative stories on Parliament.
The rules were made for Members of Parliament and any other party that Parliament would be interested. However, media houses can decline to appear before the committee and Parliament wouldn’t do anything about it.
In response to the threats by Speaker Kadaga, journalists covering parliament under their umbrella body, the Uganda Parliamentary press association also issued a statement stating their stand.
We will continue doing that which is right as we execute our mandate as journalists and protecting the public’s right to know. We are representatives of the public in parliament. We are not in Parliament as a show of courtesy from Parliament. We are in Parliament as a right. We are legally protected.
It is wrong for a Parliament which is supposed to make laws that protect fundamental human rights i.e freedom of expression to be the same Parliament that is hatching plans to muzzle media freedom simply because a story does not suit or reflect their work or expectations.
It is not Parliament’s place to dictate the editorial content of a media house, however to intentionally publish false news about