Isn’t it time for the government to let the media regulate itself?
20 Sep 20121 comments
For the past few years now, the media fraternity has taken significant efforts to establish mechanisms of self-regulation, resulting in the establishment of the Independent Media Council of Uganda (IMCU), launched in 2009 by veteran journalist and former premier Kintu Musoke.
In the past few days, there have been media reports that the government is once again on the brink of re-tabling the controversial Press and Journalists Amendment Bill (2010) to Parliament for consideration. The Bill seeks to among other things, amend the Press and Journalist Act in order to provide for registration and licensing of newspapers; and impose excessively vague and broad restrictions on the content of what may be published.
If passed, this Bill would bring to 10 the number of laws that govern or have a direct impact on media freedom and freedom of expression. The others, enacted or amended within the last 15 years include: The Press and Journalist Act (2000) (formerly Statute 1995); The Electronic Media Act (2000); The Penal Code Act (1950) as (Amended in 2007); The Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Act (2005); The Uganda Communications Commission Act (2000); The Access to Information Act (2005); The Anti-Terrorism Act (2002); The Police Act (1994) (Amended in 2005); The Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (2010). The other two proposed Bills include The Public Order Management Bill (2010); and the Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority Bill (2012).
Without going into the specific provisions of each of these laws and Bills, the fact that all these legal instruments are dedicated to regulating the media begs question: are they really necessary, have they been effective, but more importantly, do they espouse media freedom, professionalism and freedom of expression? The answer to the last two is a no!
Twenty years ago, it was perfectly understandable for some form of government media regulation. The air waves had just been liberalised, and indeed, there were just a handful of media outlets, and few “professional” media practitioners – if the definition of a journalist in the Press and Journalist Act is anything to go by. A law to regulate the media was may be necessary – then.
For the past few years now, the media fraternity has taken significant efforts to establish mechanisms of self-regulation, resulting in the establishment of the Independent Media Council of Uganda (IMCU), launched in 2009 by veteran journalist and former premier Kintu Musoke. The IMCU raised a lot of hope mainly because it was organic, and an initiative by the media themselves. It developed a code of conduct which was endorsed by media practitioners after nationwide consultations. There have and will always be questions on the ability and capacity of the media not only to put their houses in order, but also to develop a functional peer review mechanisms. This is because the mechanism assumes the existence of and seeks to promote a certain level of maturity in the professional ranks as well as a culture of civility and respect for both media peers and the society in general.
There is no doubt today that the media are more professional and principled than ever before – of course with some exceptions – and capable of regulating itself. Instead of seeking to amend the Press and Journalists Act, giving more powers to the statutory Media Council and the disciplinary committee or the Minister of Information, the government should seek to support the initiatives and structures of the IMCU.
In as much as it is easier for the government to legislate and spell out punitive measures against those who breach the laid down standards, this has not always resulted in the desired goal, unless if that goal has been to stifle media freedom and freedom of expression.
If the government is genuinely concerned about promoting media professionalism and freedom of expression, now is the time to let the media to regulate itself.