Challenges Ugandan Journalists Face in Reporting on ICT Policy-Making
By Evelyn Lirri |
Journalists covering parliament in Uganda are facing challenges in reporting legislative developments on Information and Communication Technology (ICT) due to limited knowledge and poor access to information.
According to journalists from the Uganda Parliamentary Press Association (UPPA), the challenges are further exacerbated by some legislators’ limited knowledge and interest in ICT, and by the commercial interests of media houses.
“When these [ICT] Bills are brought to the floor of Parliament and the Speaker calls for first, second and third reading, they generate no debate and so they are passed without [some] legislators and journalists knowing what has been passed,” said Moses Kajangu, a reporter with Impact FM radio and UPPA’s Secretary-General. Mr. Kajangu added that such Bills often do not get publicity from the media, so public awareness about them remains low.
Isaac Ssenabulya, a journalist with the Central Broadcasting Service (CBS) radio, said one of the reasons journalists show less interest in ICT-related legislation is because they do not understand the issues well enough to report on them.
“We need to be engaged throughout the process of having these ICT-related Bills [progress] through parliament. That way we shall develop the interest and know what issues to follow up,” he said. Mr. Ssenabulya added that meetings between Members of Parliament (MPs) and the media were crucial to understanding the Bills and their provisions.
These issues emerged during a workshop organised by the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA) in conjunction with UPPA, at which parliament reporters were urged to cover the progression of the Data Protection and Privacy Bill (2014). The Uganda government called for stakeholder input to the bill towards the end of 2014 which has now been gazetted ahead of its presentation before parliament. However, despite the proposed law’s far-reaching implications to citizens’ privacy, the bill has generated little media interest.
“We all use communication and digital tools and a lot of our information is accessed without us knowing. There are no safeguards in place to protect this kind of data,” said radio journalist Expedito Ssebayiga, while urging his colleagues to take keen interest in ICT related legislations.
Alice Lubwama from Capital Radio said while many existing cyber laws had made it easy for journalists and the public to engage in online activities, the media needed to educate and inform the public on the shortfalls of these laws and how they may affect them.
Regarding the challenge of commercial interests, Mr. Kajangu said most media houses focused on sensational issues or bills that they considered of more national or public interest. This affected the kind of stories and issues that journalists covered in parliament – giving such sensational legislative developments more coverage compared to ICT which many journalists believed the public had less interest in.
Hon. Edward Baliddawa, the former chairperson of the ICT committee in Parliament, acknowledged some of the challenges journalists face in reporting on ICT policy making and those some legislators face in enabling the media to report better on parliament’s work. However, he said with increased training and access to relevant information on the ICT Bills that come to Parliament, some of these challenges can be addressed.
Discussions at the event were based on CIPESA’s ICT policy paper on how existing policies infringe on online privacy and data protection in Uganda. CIPESA staff made a presentation on some of the legislative gaps in the draft bill, which journalists ought to highlight through their reporting.
According to CIPESA, some laws already in place, such as the Computer Misuse Act (2011), Anti Pornography Act (2014) the Regulation of Interception of Communications Act (2010), and the Uganda Communications Commission Act (2013), place limitations on citizen’s privacy and the right to freedom of expression. These, too, require media interest and coverage to push for their amendment.
Journalists were challenged to actively engage with different stakeholders including civil society, academia and the private sector to solicit their views on ICT bills before they are tabled and while they are being discussed by parliament. This would go towards ensuring that the laws passed are inclusive and accommodate the views of all stakeholders in Uganda. Other recommendations included awareness raising and capacity building exercises for journalists and parliamentarians on emerging trends in the ICT sector.
Follow the discussions on data protection in Uganda on Twitter with the hashtag #dataprotectionug