It was most disappointing to read the opinion by Mr Chris Obore, director for communication and public affairs at Parliament, justifying the decision to ban non-graduate scribes from covering the 10th Parliament (Why Parliament has set bar high for journalists, Daily Monitor, January 18).
Firstly, no one expects a whole director of communication to engage in petty debate with journalists on academic qualifications, as in this article, rather than provide information that gives insights into how Parliament decided the matter and is acting the way it did.
Sadly, no one is better placed to advise Parliament on journalism and journalists than Mr Obore who, for long, was a leading member of the media fraternity. Mr Obore surely knows that what comes out of a media outlet is determined not just by what a reporter or correspondent gathers but by such factors as the ideological position of the owners, editorial policies in place, value of an issue at a particular time relative to other issues at hand and, finally, the decision of the editor on what to publish or include in a news item. Regardless of the academic status of a reporter, these are overridding factors.
Secondly, Mr Obore has at his disposal the services of Parliament’s legal and research departments, both of which should have provided him and the Parliamentary Commission critical facts and background data to help them avoid the mediocrity manifested in the decision to ban non-graduate journalists from covering Parliament.
At the core of Mr Obore’s argument is the provision in The Press and Journalists Act of 1995 that: “A person shall be eligible for full membership of the institute (NIJU) if-(a) he or she is a holder of a university degree in Journalism or Mass Communication; or (b) he or she is a holder of a university degree plus a qualification in journalism or mass communication, and has practiced journalism for at least one year.”
If they cared to ask, the First Parliamentary Counsel would have advised Mr Obore and those pushing this absurd decision that the law is about legibility to membership of the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda, that a journalist can freely decide to belong or not, and not a prerequisite for practicing journalism in Uganda.
Mr Obore also argued that: “As an institution that passed the law, Parliament should be the first to respect it.” I agree with him entirely, because that provision does not give Parliament powers to determine who reports on it for a given media house. More importantly, the Parliamentary Commission must know that the role of Parliament is to enact and uphold laws but never to administer them. The latter is the work of the Executive and the Judiciary.
Also, the Parliamentary Commission of the 9th Parliament has no mandate whatsoever to act on behalf of the 10th Parliament.
Lastly, the rights of journalists to gainful employment and of media houses to recruit and deploy who to report for them anywhere are enshrined in our Constitution and laws.
If Parliament wants to contest the application of those rights in respect to journalists covering it, let its researchers produce an objective study that shows that journalists without degrees are incompetent to report in Parliament. Otherwise, the move by leaders of the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) to challenge the obnoxious decision to exclude non-graduate journalists from Parliament is highly commended.
We know that efforts to exclude certain journalists from Parliament is being pushed by individuals who have been adversely reported on. But pursuit of personal sentiments is abuse of authority. To avoid embarrassment in court, Parliament must rescind this irrational decision on non-graduate journalists and make peace with UPPA members.
Prof Latigo is the former Leader of Opposition 8th Parliament.