The Observer snubs Media Council summons

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The Observer snubs Media Council summons
Media Council boss Paulo Ekochu

The Observer demands that the Media Council should be reconstituted

NATIONAL | The Observer newspaper has snubbed summons by the Media Council of Uganda, citing "jurisdictional deficiencies" and prejudice.

The Council on May 8 summoned The Observer editors to answer for "derogation of the sanctity of Parliament" over an article, "MPs bribed to save government agencies".

Mr Paulo Ekochu, the Council chairman, directed that the editosr behind the article appear before his disciplinary committee today [Monday].

However, The Observer managing director Pius Katunzi wrote to the Council today saying they could not send their editor for summons, citing jurisdictional deficiencies on the council’s side among other reasons.

“Upon advice of counsel, the management of the Observer is unable to send our editor to attend today’s meeting owing to lack of jurisdiction in your disciplinary committee, as currently constituted resulting from non-compliance with the Sections 8 and 30 of the Press and Journalists Act Cap 105,” Katunzi said.

Last week, Mr Kazunti told the Nile Post that the management of the bi-weekly paper would prepare and deliver their defence to the Council.

But today, cited the lack of proper statutory notice resulting from non-compliance with Section 31, as well as bad faith by the tone and content of the summon letter.

In his summons, Mr Ekochu said that to a "reasonable man", the article "manifests a derogation of the sanctity of Parliament".

"It is necessary that its substance be interrogated with a view to assuring that journalistic principles of accuracy and balance have been exercised to the letter," he added.

The tone in Mr Ekochu's summons had left several media experts, including Prof Adolf Mbaine - who has taught media regulation for three decades at both Makerere and now Victoria University - citing prejudice and bias.

They said the Council chief had already passed judgment on The Observer, an accusation Mr Ekochu did not take kindly to when this news site contacted him last week.

"Why are you asking me questions if you are telling me I am passing judgement?" he asked. "That is your interpretation of the letter, not ours."

Mr Katunzi further says that the Council lacks functional constituent bodies such as the National Institute of Journalists of Uganda and Uganda Newspapers Editors and Proprietors Association, empowered to nominate the representatives to the Council, making it lack powers to summon or make regulations against media organisations.

According to Mr Katunzi, his media company can only cooperate with theCouncil if it is properly reconstituted.

“For this reason, The Observer respectfully request the summons be suspended until the Council has satisfactorily settled issues around obtaining full jurisdiction as mandated by law,” he said.

Quoting unnamed sources, the article said MPs had received bribes ranging from Shs500,000 to Shs2 million to stop their merger under the government's rationalisation push.

"These agencies, facing the prospect of being phased out, have been actively lobbying MPs to support their continued existence," it said.

The Nile Post has contacted Mr Ekochu on his known mobile number for a comment on what appears to be an unprecedented challenge to the authority of the Media Council.

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