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Media Council summons The Observer over MPs’ bribery story

Speaker Anita Among presides over parliament

Speaker Anita Among presides over parliament

The Uganda Media Council, a statutory body responsible for resolving conflicts between the media and the public, has issued summons to The Observer Media Limited.

This action requires the publication to defend an article from April 24, which the Council claims has undermined public trust in parliament. In a letter dated May 8, 2024, and signed by Paulo Ekochu, the chairman of the Council, it is alleged that the article jeopardized the perceived integrity of parliament, described as the cornerstone of Uganda’s democracy.

“Upholding its sanctity ensures the integrity of the democratic process. Therefore, it is critical that public trust in Parliament and the government is maintained. Indeed, a revered Parliament bolsters the public’s trust in the government and the legislative process. Respect for this institution enhances public confidence in the government’s ability to govern effectively.

Consequently, any assertion that could undermine this trust must be rigorously scrutinized for its accuracy,” part of Ekochu’s letter states. The letter further criticizes the article for failing to uphold the standard of protecting parliament’s image, particularly its claim that MPs had been bribed to retain certain government agencies amidst ongoing rationalization.

“To a reasonable person, the subject article appears to undermine the sanctity of Parliament, necessitating a thorough investigation to ensure that journalistic principles of accuracy and balance are fully applied,” the letter states.

Additionally, the letter puts The Observer Media “on notice” for failing to register the particulars of its editor, which is cited as a criminal offense under the 1995 Press and Journalist Act.

In response to the summons, Pius Muteekani Katunzi, the managing editor of The Observer Media, acknowledged receipt of the letter and stated they are preparing a response. However, Katunzi expressed preliminary concerns about the letter and its author.

“The letter lacks clarity regarding the complainant; it’s uncertain whether it’s parliament, Mr. Ekochu, or the Media Council itself. If Mr. Ekochu is the complainant and seeks to act as a neutral arbiter, he clearly cannot be both an interested party and a judge in his own cause,” stated Katunzi.

“It’s noteworthy that Mr. Ekochu attributes the perceived lapses in the integrity and sanctity of Parliament to a story in The Observer. Ultimately, it is for the public to judge, based on the conduct of parliament, whether it passes the integrity test.”

Katunzi further expressed surprise over receiving a letter from Ekochu, especially since on the day the article was published, the speaker of parliament, Annet Anita Among, had declared she instructed the parliamentary legal team to initiate a lawsuit against The Observer, yet no such legal notice has been received to date.

“It seems Mr. Ekochu is voicing complaints on behalf of the speaker. His letter concludes with a threat of criminal charges for failing to register the editor. It’s intriguing how a regulatory body only remembered this oversight after this particular story was published. What relevance does this have to the story?” Katunzi questioned.

According to the letter, The Observer is required to appear before the Disciplinary Committee of the Council on May 20 at 10:00 am.

mmkakembo@gmail.com

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