At Imperial Royal Hotel on the 28th of September, 2015; a seminar was convened by Legal Brains Trust (LBT) in conjunction with Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung to commemorate the international right to information day with the launch of the Open Parliament Initiative. The main objective of the initiative was to agitate for an open, accessible and accountable parliament. The seminar attracted participants from civil society organisations, the media fraternity, government and academia. Ms. Le Pelly from Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung gave a synopsis of the seminar and advised that the media must be utilised to strengthen Parliament and take it to the people hence it should be viewed as an opportunity as opposed to a threat to parliament. Professor Joe Oloka-Onyango gave a key note address and gave a critical appraisal of the Court decision in the Kakaire v The Parliamentary Commission, in which the Court quashed the decision of Parliament to suspend Mr. Kakaire from covering Parliamentary proceedings as a media practitioner.
He further raised a concern that the brazen contempt of court orders as instanced by the refusal of the Speaker of Parliament to issue Mr. Kakaire with a press card to enable him to continue with his job at parliament is worrisome. Mr. Pius Katunzi, from the Observer newspaper gave a self-critical evaluation of the calibre of journalists who work at Parliament. Mr. Katunzi advised media practitioners that the media industry has evolved from news reporting to agenda setting and shaping public opinion on topical national issues. He encouraged the media to play its role as a watchdog and desist from focusing on misleading news, spin and unbalanced reporting. Mr. Katunzi further advised that the media must embrace investigative journalism to enhance the quality of news reporting. Dr. William Tayeebwa, from Makerere University raised concerns about Uganda’s retention of criminal defamation and argued that such antiquated laws are a threat to freedom of expression and the right to information.
He stated that currently sixteen (16) journalists in Uganda are facing the charge of criminal defamation and the complainants range from the State President, the first lady and other politicians in Uganda. He raised doubts about the constitutionality of criminal defamation and stated that there are currently challenging it before the East Africa Court of Justice (EACJ) because it is not in tandem with Uganda’s treaty obligations. The plenary was lively as participants robustly engaged each other on a host of issues raised during the presentations. Participants were unanimous that a democratic polity is sine qua non for the realisation of media freedoms and the right to information. Secondly, the participants emphasised that journalists must guard their independence jealously and insulate themselves from any form of undue influence from politicians and parliamentarians. Participants further agreed that mainstream media must embrace contemporary media platforms to enhance news reporting and remain relevant in the 21st century. However, there was divergence of opinions on the issue of professionalising and licencing the media industry as it could be an affront to citizen journalism.
Mr. Kakaire gave a detailed presentation of his quest to justice after being suspended from covering parliamentary sessions, and expressed gratitude to those who supported him. A senior representative from the Ministry of Information & National Guidance, on behalf of the Minister officially launched the Open Parliament Initiative and pledged his Ministry’s support towards the success of such initiative. Lois Sonia Nantongo - B, Volunteer, Depatment of Information and Communication, Kituo Cha Katiba (KcK): Eastern Africa Centre for Constitutional Development, +256 393 113321