President Uganda Parliamentary Reporters Association response to Parliament’s statements about the media
Today from the press gallery, I watched with dismay as parliamentarians debated and hatched a plan to not only trample media freedoms in parliament, but also attempt to set the agenda for journalists who cover parliament.
The genesis of the over two hour debate were stories that were published by Daily Monitor, about MPs getting shs200M for cars and the shs68M to be spent on each MP’s funeral.
The Observer published a story that 78 MPs had traveled to attend the UNAA convention in the USA.
Parliament argued that the stories were false and depicted the institution in bad light. Parliament claimed parliament journalists are working with “enemies” of parliament to taint its image.
They therefore, they want to bring a stringent law to control the media. They want journalists to be taking oaths (I don’t know whether of allegiance or secrecy) before being accredited to cover parliament. The speaker then ordered the parliament rules committee to investigate the journalists who authored the stories with the goal of charging them with contempt of parliament.
I respond as follows.
It is wrong for a parliament which is supposed to make laws that protect fundamental human rights to be the same people hatching plans to muzzle media freedom simply because a story has annoyed them.
As legislators, they should actually know that there is nothing like false news on our law books. Let them ask themselves a question, were the stories true or false? On our end, the stories were well sourced and represent the truth.
As journalists who cover parliament, we subscribe to the journalists creed and the journalists code of ethics. We are not paid to publish stories and we challenge any MP who has ever paid for a story to come forward.
We strongly oppose the plan to have journalists swears oaths and we actually describe it as laughable.
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 not our role to ensure that parliament has a glittering public image; that is for those who are paid by the institution to do. We will not allow parliament to set the agenda for us. If parliament or any individual is aggrieved about a story, the best option is to go to court and challenge the story.
Anyone who is aggrieved by a media story about parliament should do the most honourable thing of going to court. Controlling the media, through stringent and draconian laws, as a show of power and might, will only boomerang because the public and the media will always win.
About appearing before the Rules Committee, we shall when invited and we shall argue the case for the media.
For God and Journalism
President Uganda Parliamentary Reporters Association