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Parliament non-degree journos ban backward

By Independent Team

The Jan. 11 decision by the Uganda parliament to bar non-graduate journalists from covering its proceedings runs counter to a modern trend by top employers to ditch the requirement when hiring.

In a memo to editors, the Deputy Clear of Parliament, Okello Obabaru, advised them to assign only journalists with communication related degrees to cover the parliament beat. Parliament’s decision is counter to a recent move by to employers like the global accountancy firms, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

In August 2015, Ernst & Young, which is one of the biggest employers of graduates in the UK, announced it was ending its practice of looking at degrees and A-level results as a means of deciding who is suitable for a job. It said, instead, it would opt for their in-house assessments and tests, which they said are “a robust and reliable indicator of a candidate’s potential to succeed”.

The Ernst & Young decision was understood not to mean that they would not hire people with good degrees and A-level scores.

But it said it was following “a growing trend among recruiters” to look for a more rounded way of deciding whether a candidate is suitable for a position than a high degree or A-level score.

The firm’s managing partner for talent told journalists that the hope is that the new policy would “open up opportunities for talented individuals regardless of their background”. In Uganda, parliament does not employ journalists. Despite this, parliament’s decision to ban non-degree journalist has been understood as a directive to editor’s to hire only degree holders.

“A journalist designated by a media house to cover Parliament is required to demonstrate that he/she has a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism, Communication or related fields and has practised Journalism for at least three years,” Obabaru said in the Jan. 11 letter.

According to Obabaru, the degree-holding journalists are the only ones deemed by parliament to be able report accurately when covering both committee and plenary sessions. Parliament’s decision has been opposed by some members of the public, including former Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, and the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPA) which has gone to court over it.

Lawyers for UPA have succeeded in getting the High Court to issue an interim order provisionally freezing the implementation of the directive.

But a UPA lawyer, Isaac Ssemakadde has said in a statement to the press that the court order is “a first aid remedy issued due to exceptional circumstances”.

He explained that the interim order was intended to foil parliament’s implementation of a Jan. 25 deadline for press accreditation. He said due to the Judges’ and Registrars’ Conference (Jan 18 – 21) and the launch of the Law Year (Jan 22), his firm could not serve the Attorney General and the parliamentary authorities and the courts would not be working on the following days before the deadline.

“So the court deemed it fit to issue an interim measure of protection for the journalists’ rights,” he said. The government and the Clerk to Parliament shall be given an opportunity to oppose the continuation of the order on 28 January 2016.

The main case regarding the ban has been allocated to Justice Yasin Nyanzi and will be heard on Feb. 14. The parliamentary ban is now being bundled together with recent similar attempts by the government its agencies to control who practices journalist and what they publish. Attempts include provisions in the Uganda Press and Journalist Act 1995 and subsequent amendments that contain similar provision as parliament is introducing.

In February, 2014, then-Minister of Information, Rose Namayanja, issued two regulations under the Press and Journalist Act which sought to tighten the government’s role in determining who practices journalism and what they publish.

The first regulation, the Statutory Instrument No. 4 of 2014 stipulated fees that journalists had to pay in order to practice journalism. The second new regulation, Statutory Instrument No. 5 of 2014, focused on giving the government more power to discipline journalists deemed to breach a government-imposed code of ethics.

Both statutes were vigorously opposed, including with a suit in the courts of law against the Uganda Press and Journalist Act. In the past, parliament has refused to accredit some journalists and has not given any explanation to editors and the public for its decisions.

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