Parliament is a journalist’s true ally

This article is republished with permission from The Observer newspaper.



A lot is being said about parliament. And the tide is wrongly against the House. The emotions, negative energy and propaganda are all directed against members of parliament. It’s turning into a planned hate campaign against MPs. But before we go further, who is an MP? An MP is not that person in office today that you dislike. An MP is anybody. It could be you, your sibling, uncle, father or mother. It is an office, not a person.

The genesis of the current attack against parliament is the trip to the UNAA convention, and then issues of the car grant and funeral expenses came into the mix.

One news reporter got numbers wrong. Olive Nakatudde of Uganda Radio Network reported there were 78 MPs in Boston, USA. There were, indeed, 20 MPs, five ministers and one EALA MP. Nakatudde put the cost at Shs 2bn. I don’t know where and how she got the additional 58 MPs, but she said it was from her sources.

Whether anything sources say is publishable or whether the motives of sources need examination before publishing a story, can only be answered by teachers of journalism theory and practitioners.

Later, Speaker Rebecca Kadaga raised concern on the floor of the House and MPs debated it. Several legislators complained about the quality of journalism not only in parliament but in the country. Some suggested measures to protect good journalism and its consumers. They also suggested stringent action against parliament staff who will be found guilty of leaking information to the media.

The speaker ruled that the matter be referred to the House Committee on Rules, Privileges and Discipline to investigate and report back.

She actually repeatedly said that if some journalists have denigrated the House, the legal position now is that such a journalist is asked to explain the veracity of their story. If the story falls short of journalism standards, the journalist is requested to apologise to the House.

One of the values in journalism is humility. Every day, serious newspapers publish a corrections column of what they have got wrong. Why? Because even when there are seasoned journalists in their newsrooms, they still believe that to err is human. But I have never heard a radio or TV station say they got a story wrong.  Who will protect other citizens affected by sloppy journalism if the actors themselves never say sorry?

And for any investigation to be fair, it has to include all the affected parties.

The mention of the fact that journalists would be requested to give their side to the committee went viral with a propaganda twist that parliament had decided to prosecute journalists. Many commentators have since joined the chorus against parliament, some claiming parliament is at war with the media.

Many are genuinely concerned because they strongly believe in the freedoms of the press. Others are simply opportunists trying to use the press to advance their own agenda. They don’t like the media. They love to use the media to achieve their ends.

The idea of the media checking parliament excesses is, indeed, a noble one. But this should be done within the demands of the profession. The fact that courts outlawed the charge of reporting false news did not give journalists a license to report false news. Journalism is not rumormongering. When you write that 78 MPs have gone to UNAA, give the evidence. He who alleges must prove.

Those who believe that parliament was attacking the messenger may just want to court positive media coverage for themselves without addressing the subject. The subject is not the messenger, but the message itself. As public messengers, journalists do not carry rumours.

The country should equally be concerned about the quality of information disseminated to the public because information if power. Parliament is not gagging journalistic activities.

MPs are saying watch them, but do so fairly and with balance. To keep insinuating that parliament is not concerned about the welfare of citizens who voted them is failure to apply appreciative inquiry methods which recognise positive efforts and highlight the failures as well.

MPs are saying that journalists should not shy away from spotlighting the use of trillions of shillings they appropriate to service delivery sectors. Instead, most times, journalists wait for accountability committees of parliament or the Inspector General of Government and auditor general to show them what went wrong.

Most journalists have no clue on how to track public expenditure!

Lastly, journalists’ true ally is parliament. Strengthening parliament is better than undermining it because the alternative is a police or military state. Not many would want to live under that situation and the circumstances therein.

The author is the director for Communication and Public Affairs of the Parliament of Uganda


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