Kampala, 19th/ March/2012; Ugandan journalists who cover parliamentary news have blacklisted the members of parliament (MPs) who argued against the proposal to allow the media cover debates in the house with their gadgets. The victim MPs include; 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).
During debate on the Parliamentary Rules of Procedure last week, MPs voted to block the media from accessing the confines of the House during plenary sessions with video and still cameras, as well as electronic recorders. Usually, journalists deposit their mobile phones at the reception before they access the Parliament chambers. The journalists are barred from the chambers and not allowed to carry laptops, note-pads, recorders, still or video cameras into the gallery from where they listen to the proceedings.
The matter was voted on and rejected in a chorus way.
The journalists under their umbrella body of Uganda Parliamentary Press association (UPPA) 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.
UPPA which comprises of over 90 members from different media houses termed the MPs as enemies to the journalists and therefore needed to be treated as such. They accuse Kwagala and Bakka of resisting the proposal, while Oulanyah of exhibiting bias as he presided over the debate and shooting down an argument that the media was free to access information by way of Access To Information Act. He said that the said law talks about only information in possession of Government.
The failed proposal was tabled by the chairman of the parliamentary committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline Fox Odoi (Independent), as the house revised the rules of procedure which guide parliament businesses. He argued that due to the technological advancement, an amendment be made to allow members of UPPA to access the gallery with their gadgets to enable them report more accurately and in a timely manner.
The house also voted to reject a proposal to allow the media access the Appointments Committee which vets the presidential nominees which would enable journalists to cover the vetting of process of this committee which is chaired by Speaker Rebecca Kadaga .
UPPA President, Agnes Nandutu told a press conference at parliament that the association members had resolved to blacklist the MPs who engineered the rejection of the media friendly proposal because they were the enemies of the media freedom.
“It was very unfortunate that the proposal was blocked. This is very unfortunate but we are going to consult legal minds, do more research and appeal the decision. These MPs did a selfish action of deciding to go with their gadgets in the house chambers and broke us from covering the proceedings without gadgets inside the house chambers. We shall work on the two MPs accordingly” Nandutu stressed.
In a bid to have the decision re-considered, the journalists have done intensive lobbying with a cross-section of parliament, including; meeting the chairman of the NRM parliamentary caucus David Bahati, NRM Chief Whip Daudi Migereko, Fox Odoi, Oulanyah and the Speaker Rebecca Kadaga among others.
UPPA Chief Whip Expedito Ssebayiga told Human Rights Network for Journalists-Uganda (HRNJ-Uganda) that enough mobilization has been made ahead of parliamentary seating on Tuesday 20th/March/2012 to have the proposal re-committed and considered more objectively.
“We have lobbied MPs and their respective leaders to re-commit this particular provision on the media and grant our requests. We are not asking anything from the ordinary, but just to enable us do our work better.” He said.
“HRNJ-Uganda commends the UPPA leadership for taking a firm stance on media freedom. Parliament conducts work on behalf of the voters to whom it must remain accountable, and this can only be done by the media who the eyes and ears of voters. We therefore call upon the MPs to reconsider the proposal and pass it order to bring the parliament closer to the voters who can only follow it through the media. The 9th Parliament should stand to be counted in the promotion of the media freedom.” Observed the HRNJ-Uganda Programme Coordinator Wokulira Ssebaggala.
HRNJ-Uganda urges parliament to vote on the matter by show of hands so that it is clear as to who votes to block the media from freely carrying out its duty.