After eight years of consultations,Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â an Independent Media Council has beenÃƒâ€šÃ‚Â launched in Kampala, Uganda.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â The Council aims to promote ethics in media and resolve disputes between media houses and the public.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â Retired journalist cum politician, Kintu Musoke, who heads the new council, said in launching the body that it was a historic occasion.Ãƒâ€šÃ‚Â
Retired journalist cum politician, Kintu Musoke, head of Uganda's Independent Media Council, said in launching the council (abridged version):
It is with great pleasure to be present as we witness this historic moment in the media landscape in Uganda when the first ever self-regulatory council, the Independent Media Council of Uganda, is born. I call it historic 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.
The importance of a strong, independent and responsible media to the attainment of democracy and good governance in Uganda cannot be overemphasised. The media are a valuable source as well as platform for information flow. The media play a crucial role in promoting and facilitating greater participation of citizens in decision making; in protection and promotion of human rights through awareness creation as well as exposition of human rights violations; in promoting vigilance towards the rule of law and the openness of court, legislative and administrative proceedings.
The media also act as watchdogs against corruption and ensure that greater importance is attached to development issues in the allocation of resources, especially contributing to combating the exclusion and marginalisation of the poor, while at the same time strengthening the institutions responsible for promoting the overall development of society.
It is in recognition of this crucial role that Uganda has constitutional guarantees for the protection of the media. Article 29 of the 1995 Constitution of Uganda guarantees "freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media", while article 41 guarantees the right of access to information.
However, experience has shown that when the media have taken on this crucial role without being mindful of professionalism and responsibility, the results have been counterproductive, causing untold suffering and sometimes irreparable damage to individuals and society. The 1994 genocide in Rwanda is a shameful example of what can be partly attributed to recklessness in the media.
Therefore, the need to prevent and check media excesses calls for regulation of the media. The government would ordinarily want to regulate the media through all available means, including legislation and policy. Sometimes, even the temptation to use extra-judicial means becomes overbearing. However, as has been recognised and acknowledged by human rights standards and jurisdictions on freedom of expression, effective self-regulation is the best system for promoting high standards in the media. It strengthens democracy and promotes professionalism. It provides an avenue for the public to check on the excesses of the media and to hold accountable those who hold others accountable. This has been tested and tried in countries like Tanzania, Botswana, South Africa, Ghana and many others.
On that basis, therefore, the Independent Media Council of Uganda is a welcome mechanism that should strive to effectively ensure that media practitioners are and remain highly responsible and professional.
It was critically important that media practitioners developed and endorsed their own Code of Ethics which they committed to be bound by. The process of coming up with the Code of Ethics was highly participatory, consultative and countrywide. A code that is generally owned by the media practitioners stands a better chance of being upheld and respected by them. The code is the contract between the media practitioners and the public on which the former can and should be held accountable if they breach it. Therefore, I urge media practitioners not to let themselves down, but to respect and uphold the Code of Ethics at all times.
We on the Governing Board will strive to ensure that we strengthen the media's internal professional standards and increase public confidence in the reliability of the information provided. We will ensure the council takes the lead in assisting various media outlets to understand their role as independent media, whose ultimate objective is to promote democracy and good governance in Uganda.
We also regard self regulation as a mechanism that could resolve matters that would otherwise find their way into the courts, into an already clogged system.
As a council, we will strive to ensure at all times that the people's right of appeal must be guaranteed, first within the council procedures and at other appropriate levels. The council procedures will guarantee fair hearing which is a fundamental right.
One of the biggest challenges facing this country is the inadequate awareness of the general population of their rights and duties, and the remedies available in the event of violation of these rights. As the Independent Media Council of Uganda, we recognise our duty to sensitise and educate the public on the existence of this council in order to empower them to utilise it. The public must be empowered to point out the ethical shortcomings of media practitioners and expect that they would be appropriately addressed. I therefore urge all our readers, listeners and viewers to make use of this self regulation mechanism.
I urge the Government, members of the public, as well as the media fraternity and all other stakeholders to support the council and give it a chance to effectively regulate the media from within, to enhance responsibility and professionalism in the profession. Uganda as a country needs strong, independent and responsible media and any effort aimed at building our media towards this target should be welcome.
The Governing Board is fully aware that launching the council is just the beginning of the road. It has taken a protracted process to come to this level, and we acknowledge that the biggest work lies ahead. The journalists placed their confidence in the Governing Board to carry the process forward, the public will be relying on us and the Government does not expect us to let it down in facilitating the media practitioners' respect for their Code of Ethics. We pledge our total commitment to live up to the task.
In conclusion I would like to thank every individual, organisation and institution that has supported the process of establishing a self-regulation mechanism in Uganda, which process has neither been easy nor quick. Allow me to make special mention of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Danida, Norad, Dfid, Panos Eastern Africa, EAMi-Uganda Chapter, Press Clubs, The Weekly Observer, The New Vision.
* This speech was reprinted by the Kampala Weekly Observer, and reproduced on allafrica.com.