OPINION: By Cissy Kagaba
In a bizarre move, as reported in the media, Parliament is proposing to gag media. Speaker of Parliament Rebecca Kadaga’s move seems to be part of a well-scripted plan to determine what is published by the media.
Her demand to investigate journalists for what she perceives as negative publicity and charge them with contempt of Parliament is a dent on our democracy and only serves to take us back in the dark days.
Previously, journalists have been suspended from parliament under unclear circumstances and through introducing requirements whose motive is still suspect. Whereas, the media is expected to exercise professionalism in reporting and not to abuse its rights, gagging them on the pretext that they are reporting irresponsibly is violation of their freedom of expression and an infringement on the public right to access information.
Media freedoms are enshrined in international and national legal frameworks to which Uganda subscribes.
Parliament being an institution that upholds the constitution and the bedrock of our democracy, should seek to preserve and protect freedoms and rights not gag them. Members of Parliament should be open and accept public scrutiny.
Journalists experience legal, political, and physical attacks, intimidation, and pressure. According to the 2016 annual report of the Freedom House, titled “The Battle for the Dominant Message” Uganda’s media freedom declined due to increased government pressure on media outlets regarding coverage of political events.
Castigating the media for doing its job is to bark the wrong tree. The media reports what happens in Parliament, and if they are unpalatable, the media cannot be to blame. If media reports are wrong, parliament has a press team to provide accurate information and counter any information that may be incorrect.
The media is expected to play the watchdog role, be the eyes of the public, and not a public relations arm for any agency.
If Parliament wants good publicity, MPs should earn it by deliberating on issues of national interest that affect Ugandans who elected them.
We live in the information age where people get information not just from the media, but from other sources including social media.
Gagging the media will not solve the perceived ‘bad publicity’ because citizens can receive information through other means.
Cissy N.Kagaba Executive Director of Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda