Right of reply and covering grief

Friday November 29 2019


By Odoobo C. Bichachi

The media will from time to time get things wrong, or not represent the facts fully by omission or commission. In such instances, many offended news subjects that feel they have been misrepresented, defamed or their side of the story has been left out tend to simply shrug off the matter (if it is considered inconsequential).

However, if they feel the matter is so big and affects their image, then they run to lawyers who pen off tersely worded letters threatening legal suits. Editors are used to these kind of threats.

Most of the threats never go beyond that initial letter as either the injured decides it is not worth the time and cost or the threat was to satisfy the gallery. However, some threats take off and media houses have been made to pay millions of shillings in defamation suits.

Running to court should, however, not be the first recourse. Media are obliged under the journalism code of ethics to grant a right of reply to injured news subjects. It is a cheap and quick way of resolving journalistic errors or omissions rather than taking the long, arduous and expensive legal route.
The NMG editorial policy guidelines specifically provides for this right as below:

Opportunity to reply: A fair opportunity to reply to inaccuracies should be given to individuals or organisations when reasonably called for.
If the request to correct inaccuracies in a story is in the form of a letter, the editor has the discretion to publish it in full or its abridged and edited version, particularly when it is too long.

However, the editor should not omit or refuse to publish important portions of the reply/rejoinder, which effectively deal with the accuracy of the offending story. If the editor doubts the truth or factual accuracy of the reply/rejoinder, even then, it is his/her duty to publish it with liberty to append an editorial comment doubting its veracity.


Note that this should be done only when this doubt is reasonably founded on impeccable evidence in the editor’s possession. The editor should not, in a cavalier fashion, without due application of mind, append such a note as: “We stand by our story.”
Readers have your say
Joshua Kisawuzi: I applaud you for the effort taken to keep the media profession alight. I have been following your articles and I am impressed.

For the article titled, “How should journalists report cases of suicide,” in the Daily Monitor of November 22, it is good but the issues you are writing about should apply not only to suicidal cases, but also to all reports of deaths. It always annoys me to see journalists insisting to interview teary bereaved family members.

Sometimes it is even bleeding accident victims!
All these stems from the quality of journalists we have in Uganda. Surely, a few media houses have professional journalists with the passion for journalism. You remember when Parliament demanded for qualification, most of the so-called senior parliamentary reporters were ejected.

Second, you made references to Scandinavian countries and UK. This is like comparing Kampala with New York! In developed countries, the media practices must be ‘absolute,’ but in low developed countries like Uganda, media practices are “relative’; that is why even in the Daily Monitor , you still allow unprofessional media practitioners.

Lastly, you are wrong to generalise that “online news websites are not guided by any media ethics...” You went ahead to defame them; that they are feeding speculation and mock the deceased. This is wrong. I am one of the persons who read the Monitor Online news and are you doing the same! There are Online news site that are good.

All in all, any media practitioner must follow the journalism professional ethics no matter whether online, newspaper, radio or any other. Going forward, media house need to do routine internal training and sponsor their unprofessional staff for further training.

PE reply: Many thanks for your feedback on my article. I do take note of the exceptions you raised, especially in as far as online news sites are concerned. My apologies for the generalisation. Your note should help journalists to understand that the public is not satisfied with a lot of the practices, especially when covering grief.

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