Three media houses have declined to appear before Parliament’s committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline, to respond to allegations of writing negative stories on Parliament.
Editors of The Observer, a tri-weekly newspaper, Uganda Radio Network, a news agency and Red Pepper newspaper, failed to appear before the committee, after invitations were issued to them last week by the committee, to appear and explain why they ran stories deemed to be sensational and unbalanced, and placing Parliament’s image in disrepute.
Only the Editor in chief of Vision Group, Barbara Kaija, accompanied by the Editor in chief New Vision, John Kakande and Tony Kirabira, the company’s legal officer appeared before the committee on Wednesday 5th October 2016, which held a two-hour meeting with them.
According to Kaija, the committee questioned them over the excesses of the media in writing about issues on the car grant for MPs, the travel of MPs to the annual Uganda North America Association (UNAA) in September and the Shs 68 million to be spent on a legislator for burial.
She says that the story written in the New Vision on September 22nd 2016, on Parliament coming to a standstill due to the UNAA convention, was balanced and gave the institution an opportunity to explain the matter.
Kaija says their decision to appear before the MPs was an opportunity to raise issues with MPs challenges of media and for issues they want addressed, hence need to appear. She said while they did not agree on who should regulate the media, they advocated for an independent media council, which can look into the issues of the excesses of the media.
“We did advocate for the separation of powers so that if the media has erred, at least we are able to make the media account in an independent manner rather than having to account to people who they have erred against,” Kaija explained.
However, James Tumusiime, Managing Director of the Observer defended their decision not to appear, noting that a media house should not surrender its editorial decision making to a committee of Parliament.
URN Editor-in-chief, Wilson Akiiki Kaija and Red Pepper Managing Editor Ben Byarabaha, said they did not receive any formal invitations from the committee.
Reports in the media last month showed that Parliament reportedly spent about 2 billion shillings on over 70 MPs for the UNAA convention.
The committee chairman, Kenneth Ongalo Obote, Kalaki County MP, however said the committee has a mandate from the House to probe the matter and report back.
“If the Observer believes we don’t have jurisdiction, then that is their opinion. Our mandate from the House was that we probe this and report to the House,” Ongalo said.