By Benjamin Rukwengye
This week, Mr David Kyetume Kasanga was unveiled as the new secretary of the Media Council of Uganda, by the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Vincent Bagiire.
According to the Press and Journalism Act, 1995 the Secretary shall be “the Director of Information or a senior officer of the Ministry (of Information and National Guidance) who shall be responsible for information”. This involves sharing regular updates with the public, on the Media Council’s deliberations and decisions. The secretary serves for a renewable term of three years.
Kyetume, who previously served as a Principal Information Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, replaces Mr. Pius Mwinganisa.
During his term, Mr. Mwinganisa was involved in handling complaints brought before the Council against a range of newspapers. He also presided over a nationwide training for journalists on evidence-based reporting on issues of conflict sensitive journalism and development reporting.
The Media Council
Established by the Press and Journalist Act, 1995, the Media Council is responsible for licensing journalists, addressing complaints against the media and arbitrating disputes, and censoring audio-visual material. It is also empowered to handle the accreditation of foreign journalists and local freelancers who work for foreign media outlets.
The Council is comprised of members of the public, the National Union of Journalist of Uganda, the Newspaper Proprietors and Editors Association, electronic media, the Law Society and scholars.
The impartiality of the Media Council has always been point of contention because its members are selected by the Minister of Information. Critics argue that appointees are often pro-government and biased. However the mettle of the Council has not been fully tested because it is consistently underfunded and unable to perform effectively.
This notwithstanding, the Media Council in fulfillment of its mandate “to professionalize journalism just like the legal and the medical profession,” continues to perform its basic functions. It has received several complaints about media performance by members of the public, to date arbitrating more than 40 cases against The Red Pepper newspaper.
Enter the Independent Media Council of Uganda
Concerns about effective and impartial State regulation of the media led to the formation of the Independent Media Council of Uganda in 2006. 42 media houses and organisations established the Independent Media Council (IMCU) as a voluntary body through which they can hold themselves accountable, without the risk of State-overreach. They also agreed on a code of ethics as the basis on which their conduct would be judged.
At its launch the IMCU’s head the retired journalist and politician, Kintu Musoke, called the establishment of the body an historic moment “because for the first time in the history of Uganda, journalists and the media fraternity have made a self-derived commitment to manage media responsibility as is required in fostering democracy and good governance.”
However that optimism was short-lived as enthusiasm waned and media houses failed to remit funds to keep the IMCU secretariat open. Still, a push for the operationalization of a self-regulation mechanism for the media continues.
In a presentation to the parliamentary rules and procedures committee in 2016, Ms Barbara Kaija, Editor-in-Chief of Vision Group stated: “The demands of the time indicate that we need the Independent Media Council operationalised. With millions of social media users, over 250 radio stations, 14 TV stations and a couple of newspapers, the media has evolved so much that the demands necessitate a review of the composition and the set up of our dormant media council.
“An independent media council whose independence and funding is protected by an Act of Parliament is desirable for our young democracy and we know that it is in your power as the August House to facilitate Uganda’s young media to grow and to serve better.”