Kampala, 21st/March/2012; The media in Uganda has registered victory when Parliament overturned its decision of banning journalists from carrying their electronic gadgets to parliamentary press gallery. Last week, the MPs had voted to block a proposal to allow the journalists to use audio recorders and cameras while covering plenary sessions.
The bi-partisan reversal of the decision was as a result of pressure and intense lobbying by the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA). The move saw ministers and members of parliament (MP) from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) join their colleagues in the opposition to support the recommitment of the proposal. The journalists dressed in black and filled up the press gallery of the house.
The motion to recommit the proposal was brought by Igara West MP Raphael Magezi who argued that modern trends of parliament cannot avoid the media. He said that the MPs are well represented when the media use their gadgets like recorders and cameras to accurately quote them. He added that since a section of the media was already airing live the proceedings of parliament, all the others deserved to be free to do the same.
Magezi was supported by ministers of Information Mary Karoro Okurut and Adolf Mwesigye of Local government and MPs Simon Mulongo, Medard Lubega Sseggona, Bakka Mugabe, JB Mutebi Balikuddembe, Onyango Kakoba and Abdu Katuntu among others.
The journalists under their umbrella body of Uganda Parliamentary Press association (UPPA) which comprises of over 90 members from different media houses had asked the Rules and Privileges committee to allow the media to carry along their gadgets into the house to capture MPs’ debates in order to avoid misquotation and possible defamation. But the house had voted to block the proposal.
UPPA President Agnes Nandutu was over joyed. She described the achievement as a great victory for the media.
“This is great victory, but it has not come easily, I took a lot of aggressive lobbying up to the last minute. It’s also an achievement in the country as Uganda becomes one of the few countries to open up its parliament. I wish to commend my UPPA colleagues who stood firm and the MPs who appreciated the need to open up.” She told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda HRNJ-Uganda at parliament.
She cautioned the journalists against using this privilege to abuse the professional standards.
This brought an end to a ban on the MPs who had been blacklisted for undermining the blocking of the proposal. They included; the Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM), woman MP for Iganga District Olivia Kwagala Kabala (NRM) and Bukooli North’ Bakka Mugabi (NRM) since they had realized their mistakes.
The house however did not reconsider the reversing the decision to allow the media access the Parliamentary Appointments Committee which vets the presidential nominees, a move which would enable journalists to cover the vetting process of this committee which is chaired by the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga.
HRNJ-Uganda commends all the efforts made by UPPA and MPs to open up the plenary sessions to the media. This will go a long way in holding the MPs and government more accountable to the electorates and other development partners. We however call on the MPs to ensure that all draconian laws and restrictive legislations to the media are dealt away with in order enhance media freedom in the country.” Said the HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.