Kadaga under fire for suspending journalists
Posted Thursday, January 31 2013 at 02:00
Talks on. Parliament spokesperson says they are in talks and a solution would be reached soon.
Speaker Rebecca Kadaga yesterday came under heavy criticism from legislators and activists who demanded she rescinds a decision to suspend two journalists from reporting from Parliament.
Ms Kadaga, who was reported out of the country, was criticised for acting with impunity and undermining the rule of law.
The Observer reporters, Mr Tash Lumu and Mr Sulaiman Kakaire, were on January 28 suspended indefinitely after the Speaker reportedly said they published what she believed to be falsehoods about herself and deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah.
Lawmakers, civil society activists and journalists, however, denounced the Speaker’s decision as “an attack on independent journalism”.
Mr Mathias Mpuuga (Ind. Masaka Municipality) counselled that “the Speaker must realise that leadership at the top end avoids emotive reactions over matters she would otherwise handle like a national leader.”
“Nobody will understand her emotions. The media like politicians make errors, but is central in the conduct of public affairs for which Parliament is set aside. We cannot engage in reprisals every time we disagree on an issue,” Mr Mpuuga said.
A January 28 letter to Observer editor Richard Kavuma from the Office of the House Clerk, but signed by Parliament’s Spokesperson Helen Kawesa, said the journalists filed “inaccurate” articles which it said “are damaging to the office and persons of the Speaker and Deputy Speaker.”
Ntenjeru South MP Patrick Nsanja (Ind.) reminded Ms Kadaga that the Supreme Court in 2004 struck down the law on publishing false news with Judge Joseph Nyamihana Mulenga observing that it was unconstitutional to the extent that it curtailed the right to freedom of expression.
The law on publishing false news was successfully challenged by then editor of this newspaper, Mr Charles Onyango Obbo, and reporter Andrew Mujuni Mwenda in 2002 as being inconsistent with Articles 29 and 43 of the Constitution.
In view of the Supreme Court ruling, the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association also told the Daily Monitor that the Guidelines for Media Coverage of Parliament which empowers the Speaker to suspend journalists contravene Article 92 of the 1995 Constitution.
Article 92 of the Constitution prohibits the enactment of legislation designed to defeat or overturn a ruling of court.
Mr Godber Tumushabe, a lawyer and the executive director at the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment, said: “What the Speaker has done is clearly consistent with the growing intolerance of criticism by our leaders. I know the Speaker as a respected leader who has always stayed above the fray. It’s therefore disappointing that she would take that kind of extra-judicial action.”
Mr Tumushabe advised that a leader who feels offended by a news story should seek redress in court or call a press conference to clarify the record.
The head of the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, Ms Cissy Kagaba, said the Speaker’s action is an infringement on the citizens right to information through the media. Asking Ms Kadaga to reverse the ban, Ms Kagaba observed that corruption thrives in secrecy.
Mukono Municipality MP Betty Nambooze (DP) and Mr Vincent Kyamadidi (NRM, Rwampara) said Parliament and the Speaker’s Office were victims of a weak Public Relations Department, adding that it is Parliament’s role to defend the freedom of expression and freedom of the media.
Mr Angelo Izama, a senior journalist, said Ms Kadaga’s action exposes the weakness of journalists’ associations.
“Ms Kadaga would be less inclined to shake down two journalists with an organisation behind them to which she would have to turn in order to resolve an allegation of professional misconduct. As it is, her actions reflect her freedom to act and even act with impunity,” he said.
Lawyer and parliament analyst Nicholas Opio, said: “the Rules of Procedure bestow upon the Speaker the powers to suspend a reporter from covering Parliament, but those powers ought to be exercised judiciously and with restraint. It should not be used in any way to stifle the free flow of information because a democracy is about debate. The Speaker should have asked PRO to give a true account of what transpired.”