Editorial – Implement Uganda Broadcasting Corporation reforms

This editorial was first published in Daily Monitor on 21 December, 2016.

The Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) ad hoc review committee has recommended a raft of changes to revamp its operations and transform it into a truly modern, admirable public broadcaster.

The entity owns four television stations and eleven radio stations, broadcasting in more than 20 languages. Therefore, in theory, UBC should be a paragon of excellence in the nation’s journalism and media business the way the British Broadcasting Corporation is in the United Kingdom.

Instead, it is teetering. The encumbrance imposed by massifs of debt and cross-purpose perceptions among officials on whether UBC is a State/government broadcaster or ruling party’s mouthpiece — a kind of a propaganda tool — has, the committee found, polarised and distracted its leadership and stalled foresight.

The report notes that the perennially under-funded UBC cannot pay staff, has defaulted on remitting their pension contributions, breaches regulatory provisions, its assets are mismanaged, owns derelict or under-utilised equipment.

The inquiry also raised a red-flag that UBC’s substantial investment in digital terrestrial television broadcasting may go to waste.

Dr Peter Mwesige’s committee deserves commendation for doing a thorough job and producing a report bold in content, specific in recommendation and well-rounded.

However, the real success that benefits the tax payers funding UBC will be measured by the government’s implementation of the proposed reforms to turn the institution into a true, independent public broadcaster.

This means the new UBC, for instance, will be professional and courageous enough not to blackout or discount voices of the Opposition while serving an overkill of regime stories.

We demand that the government does not let the Mwesige report get caked with dust as have some of its previous such findings.

Information minister Frank Tumwebaze’s remark at the report launch yesterday that the Cabinet is “eager” to consider it and the government will implement the findings is encouraging for a start. We, however, welcome the promise with cautious optimism. Let the Executive expedite preparation and consideration of a white paper to set forth the manner and pace of implementing the reforms.

It is imperative that the government undertakes an immediate comprehensive forensic audit to establish the reach of the rot inside the public broadcaster.

A gigantic but sick UBC is a loss to tax payers financing it; its partisan delivery a hemorrhage to democracy and turn-off to Ugandans of diverse interests. The win-win situation, in our view, is for it to be rescued from a plunge to death. A revived UBC must operate as a true public broadcaster that its founding Act intended.

The issue: Uganda Broadcasting Corporation.

Our view: A gigantic but sick UBC is a loss to tax payers financing it; its partisan delivery a hemorrhage to democracy and turn-off to Ugandans of diverse interests. A revived UBC must operate as a true public broadcaster that its founding Act intended.

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