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Daily Monitor promises hot air, misleads readers

A newspaper headline is a short summary of a news report. It normally appears in large letters above the report. That, according to the Cambridge Dictionary.

Among other requirements, a headline should be accurate and specific. And it should be interesting enough as to create “thirst” in the reader by saying what the story is about. Yes, the headline makes an allegation, then relays the button of responsibility to the content underneath it to prove that claim. Put succinctly differently, the headline is the peg that draws the reader into a story.

That is what the Daily Monitor headline, Lira enacts by-laws to address sexual abuse’ on Friday, February 23, 2024 should have done. It didn’t.

Judging from the use of the present continuous tense, ‘enacts’, readers would have immediately thought that local authorities in the Lang’o sub-region of northern Uganda, Lira District, had already passed by-laws to beat sexual abuse. However, the first paragraph of the story by reporter Bill Oketch introduced an instantaneous anti-climax: “Leaders in Lira District are in the process of enacting by-laws and ordinances aimed at curbing rampant child sexual abuse.”

So, the by-laws haven’t been enacted? Ok. What about the new term, “ordinances”? What are they, especially in the laws of the Republic of Uganda? If, pray, the by-laws and “ordinances” have been enacted, what level of local government did what, and when? None of the alleged local laws is mentioned.

“Now, we have taken them [58 trained women and youth councillors] to the next level of development of by-laws and ordinances so that they can be able (sic) to bring the policies to their respective councils,” the story quotes an official of what seems to be a non-governmental organisation. It reports the Lira District Community Development Officer, Christine Anono, as saying that child sexual violence is rampant in Lira, and that boys “suffered silently due to lack of awareness”. The writer offers no statistics on the affected children and affected areas to correctly portray the gravity of the crime.

Bill Oketch also reports that “leaders in Ogur and Aromo sub-counties and Lira City have been trained and supported by Women Leadership Development (WLEDE) to formulate local laws against sexual gender-based violence (SGBV), child marriage, and teenage pregnancies which are rampant in Lang’o.” He doesn’t tell readers anything about WLEDE.

The rest of the story delves into training of participants at Lira (the Lira District headquarters) on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 on how by-laws and ordinances “should be written in a clear, concise and gender-neutral tone”, and of the efforts to be made to tame school dropout levels in young girls and boys.

To improve the quality of his story, reporter Bill Oketch should have had the professional energy to conduct a quick – but basic – desktop research on how by-laws are enacted in Uganda, and by what levels of local government.

Section 39 of the Local Governments Act (Chapter 243) gives legislative powers to local government councils (urban authorities, sub-counties, divisions, and village councils) to enact by-laws and ordinances “for proper and effective implementation of the government’s programmes, national policies and laws.”  District and lower local governments have the power to formulate ordinances and by-laws, respectively. The Act, which commenced on March 24, 1977, defines by-laws as “rules made by lower local councils”, while an ordinance is “the law made or passed by the district council.” Lira District has one Higher Local Government, one Municipal Local Government (with 4 division LGs) and 15 Lower Local Governments.

To firm his grip on the beat, the Daily Monitor reporter should refer to the widely quoted policy briefing paper by the Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) and the Uganda Law Reform Commission. It’s titled, ‘Step By Step Guidelines for Making Ordinances and By-laws for Local Governments in Uganda.’  Revised in 2020 by Onesmus Mugyenyi and Dickens Kagarura, the publication provides the most simplified procedure for making ordinances and by-laws, a handy document for the district councils, lower local governments, the academia and journalists.

Lesson learnt? Good journalism is a product of hard work. It’s not a walk in the park.

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