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Court blocks Parliament directive on journalists

Media houses will not have to comply with the newly-issued parliamentary directive to assign only journalists with a degree to cover the House activities.

High Court assistant registrar (Civil) Beatrice Stella Atingu issued an interim order yesterday, halting the directive at least until after the Hearing Notice of a case between Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA) versus Parliamentary Commission and Attorney General on January 28, 2016.

“In the meantime the Respondents, their officers, servants, agents or any other person are restrained from implementing the impugned directive of the clerk of Parliament dated 11th January 2016 which purports to fix the job specifications for journalists who are posted to cover Parliament pending the hearing interparties of this Application for an Interim Order scheduled for 28th day of January, 2016 at 2.00pm”, the order reads in part.

On Tuesday, Parliament issued fresh guidelines requiring journalists accredited to the House to hold a Bachelor's degree in Journalism or Communication and three years of professional practice.

Journalists at work

In a letter dated January 11 to editors, Okello Obabaru, the Deputy Clerk to Parliament, noted that the new guidelines will facilitate complete, fair, accurate and balanced coverage of parliamentary committees and plenary sessions. In the letter, Parliament indicated that it reserved the right to admit or deny accreditation to a journalist deemed not academically qualified to report on House matters.

The letter also asked editors to submit names of reporters accompanied by relevant supporting academic documents for accreditation to Chris Obore, the Director Communication and Public Affairs not later than January 25, 2016 for accreditation.

The UPPA executive through the association lawyer Isaac Ssemakadde applied for a court injunction arguing that the directive conflicts with the Constitution and internationally recognised norms and standards for regulating the relationship between Parliament and the media relations. Ssemakadde says that the injunction is a first aid remedy to ensure protection of journalists' rights.

He said that government together with the clerk to parliament shall be given an opportunity to oppose the continuation of the order on January 28 and that the case has been allocated to Justice Yasin Nyanzi.

Court argued that not issuing the temporary injunction, “a bundle of constitutional rights of the applicant and its members will be infringed. Many journalists with existing accreditation will lose their posts and most likely their jobs. Furthermore, the talent poll from which to recruit parliamentary reporters will be disproportionately l limited thereby pushing up staffing costs artificially and causing unnecessary redundancies in the news rooms"

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