UCC to broadcasters: Watch out. We’re watching you.

Radio and television stations around Uganda are being closely monitored by the Uganda Communications Commission this election season. The Commission, not one to slack in its duty to enforce the law when the need arises, has issued a statement that outlines regulations for minimum broadcasting standards, with a strong warning against breaking the law.

While this is not the first election in which the Commission has intervened to ensure broadcasting law is upheld, the time and wide distribution of the call to compliance has put a number of stations on edge.

The published minimum broadcasting standards that broadly address matters of ethics, decency and security, are outlined in Schedule 4 of the Uganda Communications Act. The Commission asserts that it will be watching for compliance to these regulations specifically in regards to programming around the elections, and it calls for “professionalism and responsible behaviour” from TV and radio stations.

Schedule 4 of the Act states that broadcast or video operators shall ensure that:

a) Any programme which is broadcast

  • Is not contrary to public morality;
  • Does not promote the culture of violence or ethnic prejudice among the public, especially children and youth;
  • In the case of news broadcast, is free from distortion of facts;
  • Is not likely to crate public insecurity or violence;
  • Is in compliance with existing law;

b) Programmes that are broadcast are balanced to ensure harmony in such programmes;

c) Adult-oriented programmes are appropriately scheduled;

d) Where a programme that is broadcast is in respect to a contender for public office that contender is given equal opportunity on such a programme;

e) Where a broadcast relates to national security, the contents of the broadcast are verified before broadcasting.

The Commission warns that “it shall without hesitation invoke its regulatory powers to sanction those non-compliant media houses found to be in breach of the above minimum broadcasting standards in accordance with the law”.

Interestingly while the law speaks to broadcast content only, the Commission’s statement is also addressed to citizen journalists and social media users. It notes that while citizen journalism has advantages, it can disturb peace and stability. Therefore, the Commission urges social media users to self-regulate.

It is not clear what law the Commission would use to shut down social media users it deems to be errant or if it would take any action at all.

Uganda Communications Commission staff will also be monitoring the airwaves to ensure adherence to Electoral Commission media guidelines.

In a statement issued on 12 February 2016, the Electoral Commission reiterates that it alone has the mandate to announce election results and declare winners. It says it has directed the Uganda Communications Commission to put off air any media that refuses to comply with this.

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For more information read:

Electoral Commission Guidelines for Media in Uganda during the Electoral Process

Uganda Communications Act, 2013

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