The latest news from parliament is the usual rhetoric skirmishes between the ruling party and opposition legislators but a decision by the authorities to set standards for the journalists who will cover the 10th parliament.
A letter dated January 11th addressed to various media houses in Uganda, signed by Mr Okello Obabaru, on behalf of the Clerk to Parliament Jane Kibirige states that “the journalist(s) designated by media houses to cover parliament should demonstrate that he/she has a Bachelors degree in journalism, communication or related field and has practiced journalism for 3 years.”
The decision is informed by the “need for a complete, fair, accurate and balanced coverage of parliament and its committee.”
In March last year, Parliamentary Commission mooted a bizarre decision to expel journalists who had covered parliament for more than five years.
The decision was informed by the “interest of balanced media coverage of Parliament.” Though complex to investigate, its clandestine aim could be related to the attempt to set standards for parliament journalists.
The decision to set standards for journalists should be examined in the context of Press and Journalist Act, 1995 with a chief aim of professionalising journalism.
The act established Media Council and the National institute for Journalists of Uganda (NIJU) to licence enrol practitioners respectively.
Section 15(2) stipulates that “a person shall be eligible for full membership of the institute if-(a) he or she is a holder of university degree in journalism or Mass communication; or (b) he or she is a holder of a university degree plus a qualification in journalism or mass communication, and has practised journalism for at least one year.”
Section 26 states that “The name and particulars of a person enrolled under this Act shall, on presentation of the certificate of enrolment to the council, be entered on the register of journalists of Uganda.”
More than 20yrs later after the act was enacted, its impacts on regulation of standards of journalists cannot be sketched. Where is the institute?
Where is the media council? They are lifeless. But important to note, the profession is booming.
Important to note, regulating standards of journalists met a deadlock because journalism is a young profession that cannot be ring faced.
It can’t be compared to other professions like law or medicine that have been around for more than a centuries.
The profession thrives on passion not specialised skills and this is why it should be unbolted to enthusiasts from other profession.
Most of Uganda’s successful editors and reporters have never stepped in a journalism school.
An attempt to weed out unprofessional journalists from parliament as per the directives may mean discharging more than 80 percent of media practitioners currently stationed at parliament.
And it would be hard for small media houses to find a qualified journalist to send to parliament.
Director of Information at Parliament Mr. Chris Obore who blossomed in journalism without minimum qualification that parliament is seeking from journalists ought to have offered his colleagues wise counsel on the matter.
The resolution is ill informed.
I have spent the past three years at Makerere University pursuing a Bachelors degree in Journalism and Communication hitherto without studying parliamentary reporting.
I have not reaped skills that can put me at an advantage than my passionate colleagues in the profession.
I can’t dismiss the essentiality of professional standards for journalists but parliament authorities and media houses should explore alternatives and viable solutions to this stalemate.
For instance make use of organisations like African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME) to better journalists.
No one is a winner in a situation where authorities keep hold on setting standards for journalists.
Parliament has already injured its relationship with journalists and media organizations.
And the public will miss information from the parliament, the heart of business on laws, peace, order, development and good governance of Uganda.