Speaker Rebecca Kadaga has ordered Parliament’s Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline to examine what she described as the continued publication of negative and damaging reports on the house.
She instructed the committee chaired by Kalaki MP Clement Kenneth Ongalo-Obote to find out whether the media houses can be sued for contempt of parliament.
This follows several stories in the media in the past week related to MPs benefits. Focus has been on the recent trip to the UNAA convention in the US, funeral and car benefits.
Kadaga delivered her warning in parliament on Thursday in her communication to the house during a plenary sitting where MPS spent close to two hours debating what they called a well funded and well calculated plan to tarnish their image through alarming and defamatory reporting.
“If we hit these people financially, they will end up like Uganda Confidential. They used to write bad stories about people,” Kadaga said as she threatened to sue.
“He (Teddy Ssezi Cheeye) was sued until he collapsed. By the time he went to court he was finished. So let’s take them to court as many times as possible until they become sensible.”
She gave the committee two weeks to come up with a comprehensive report to be presented to the house on three media houses, The Observer, Daily Monitor and Red Pepper.
Kadaga cited stories written by The Observer on parliament reportedly spending over sh2 billion on a delegation of 78 MPs legislators attending the 28th Uganda North America Convention (UNAA) in the United States.
The other two stories were written by Daily Monitor, one on the awarding of medals to former members of parliament and another on how sh68m will be spent on each MP’s burial.
“I saw a screaming headline that ‘Kadaga gives medals to Besigye and Winnie’. We are actually giving medals to over 2000 former members of parliament starting from 1962 when Uganda got independence,” said Kadaga.
On the burial expenses, Kadaga said parliament is only budgeting for the death of seven MPs the entire five year term.”
MP Busiro South Simon Peter Ssematimba told the house that the Committee on Information, Communication and Technology(ICT) where he sits is in consultation with the Media Council. They are working on amendments of the Press and Journalist Act 1995.
“The problem is that the Press and Journalist Act 1995 and the Media Council Act are toothless and hence cannot discipline the crazy media in Uganda with the exception of Super FM. Therefore I am appealing to you members to support us when the bill comes on the floor so that we put the media in a position of discipline,” said Ssematimba. Ssematimba is a director at Super FM
The Bugangaizi East MP Onesimus Twinamasiko defended the media, saying reporters are doing a great job and he put the blame on parliamentary administrative staff and some MPs who provide confidential documents and other vital information.
Isaac Imaka, the president Uganda Parliamentary Reporters Association urged parliament to handle the issues cautiously.
“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,” he said in a statement.
“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?”