Media Council summons Monitor over Museveni story

Thursday April 08 2021
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Mr Tabu Butagira, the Daily Monitor Managing Editor, Content (right), exchanges ideas with Mr Richard Bwayo (left), the Monitor Publication’s external lawyer, at the Media Council offices in Kampala yesterday. PHOTO | MICHAEL KAKUMIRIZI

By Elizabeth Kamurungi

The Media Council of Uganda has summoned editors of Daily Monitor newspaper and their counterparts at the sister publication, The East African, over publication of a story that a US paper had reported that President Museveni’s ‘inner circle’ got Covid-19 jabs.

This newspaper published the article adapted from the Wall Street Journal on February 23 under the headline, Museveni ‘inner circle’ got Covid jabs.

The Daily Monitor story, unlike the original version in WSJ, carried comments by the senior presidential press secretary, Mr Don Wanyama, and Health minister spokesperson Emmanuel Ainebyoona denying the claims.

This newspaper in a March 16 clarified that “the Presidency has reached out to us to reiterate that the Wall Street Journal story was not truthful and that neither H.E. the President nor members of his inner circle received the vaccine as reported. We are happy to set the record straight and regret any misinterpretations that might have arisen.”

The Daily Monitor article did not name any person as a recipient of the vaccine reportedly offered by Chinese vaccine manufacturer Sinopharm.
In its such summons, the Media Council accused the respondents of publishing a “false and misleading” story in breach of ethical standards.

Daily Monitor managing editor, Content Tabu Butagira and the Monitor Publication’s external lawyer, Mr Richard Bwayo, yesterday appeared before the Media Council for a disciplinary hearing in Kampala.

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The four-member disciplinary panel was led by Media Council chairperson, Mr Paulo Ekochu, and other members included Mr Peter Okello Jabweli, Ms Assumpta Kemigisha and David Kyetume Kasanga, the Council secretary.

Mr Bwayo raised a preliminary objection that the matter before Media Council was also being adjudicated by the High Court in a civil suit brought against one of the respondents, Monitor Publications Limited, by President Museveni.

He argued that the respondent would be prejudiced if subjected to parallel judicial and quasi-judicial hearings based on the same set of facts.

Mr Bwayo submitted that the Supreme Court had already struck out the offence of publishing false news, but Mr Ekochu countered that the 2002 decision in the Charles Onyango Obbo & Andrew Mwenda Vs Attorney General constitutional appeal, No 2 of 2002, only annulled criminalisation of the offence but never removed Media Council’s oversight powers over journalists and media houses.

The Daily Monitor yesterday also renewed its March 25 submission for the Media Council to provide information about the complainant and the particulars of the complaint that gave rise to the summons against it and The East African.

In response, Mr Ekochu said they acted on their own volition based on public complaints made by President Museveni and the Health ministry that the impugned article was false.

 “The matter before us arose on the basis of the [Media] Council acting in its inherent powers to exercise disciplinary control over journalists,” Mr Jabweli said.

Section 9 of the Press and Journalist Act empower the Council to exercise disciplinary action over the media as well as arbitrate disputes between the State and the media.

Mr Ekochu yesterday overruled Monitor’s preliminary objections and decided on a full hearing on grounds that the Council was not satisfied that its proceedings against the media houses would prejudice them or the civil case in the High Court which is pending hearing.

President Museveni through his lawyers filed a defamation suit in the High Court civil division, alleging the story portrayed him in bad light.
The disciplinary hearing was yesterday adjourned indefinitely, pending the Media Council serving on the respondents the specifics of the preferred charges.  

Case
President Museveni through his lawyers filed a defamation suit in the High Court Civil Division, alleging the story, Museveni ‘inner circle’ got Covid jabs, portrayed him in bad light.

ekamurungi@ug.nationmedia.com

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