The Uganda Communications Commission has ordered the Daily Monitor to immediately suspend its website for failing to register it as per the new directive issued to all online publishers last year.
The order to suspend the website was however prompted by a complaint by the Speaker of Parliament over a story run by the website and widely circulated on social media about her alleged failure to pay for services procured from a traditional healer several years ago.
Ms Rebecca Kadaga told UCC that what the website had published was fake news intended to damage her reputation.
Ms Kadaga has over the years had a rocky relationship with journalists especially those covering Parliament. In 2013, she suspended two Observer journalists from reporting from Parliament for allegedly publishing falsehoods about her. Her decision was nullified by the High Court in 2015.
In 2015, Parliament mooted the idea of banning journalists who had covered the house for more than five years, saying they were no longer impartial in their coverage. The move didn’t succeed.
In 2016, in a widely criticised move, Parliament introduced a new hurdle and asked editors to recall all their reporters and send only those who had university degrees.
In a 6 February letter to the Managing Director of Monitor Publications Limited, UCC says investigation into the content of the story had commenced and expects the Monitor to submit to the commission a written explanation for publishing the story.
The Monitor website has since taken down the story but the website is still online.
“UCC’s preliminary investigations have revealed that Monitor Publications actively runs an online newspaper platform, which falls within the scope of data communications services, provision of which requires one to obtain an authorisation from the Uganda Communications Commission in accordance with sections 5(1)(a) and 27 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, which Monitor Publications has never applied for,” reads the letter.
In a statement published in its Friday, 8 February edition, Monitor said “MPL complies with all the UCC regulations and we are in touch with UCC to resolve any misunderstandings”.
It added: “We expect that complaints related to content will continue to be dealt with in appropriate forums, including the Media Council and courts of law.”
ACME’s executive director Peter Mwesige said UCC was mixing up issues and unfairly targeting the Monitor “to placate speaker Kadaga.”
“Questions about whether the Monitor followed “minimum” journalistic standards and ethics don’t warrant a suspension of its online platform. The registration issues too could have been addressed without resorting to this high-handed measure,” Dr Mwesige said, adding that, “In any case, there are media houses, including UBC, that have not fulfilled certain licensing conditions, but they have not been suspended.”
In its directive to all online media last March, the commission said it would from 2 April 2018 embark on a nationwide enforcement against all persons engaged in offering online data communications services without authorisation from the Commission.
Mr Ibrahim Bbossa, the spokesperson for the commission, said many online media owners have registered but could not provide a specific number.
Mr Bbossa said that UCC was concerned about the proliferation of online media which needs to be regulated.
“It has the potential, if left unregulated to incite violence, cause ethnic prejudice, spread disinformation and use the platforms to malign and assassinate people’s character,” he said.
Mr Bbossa added: “We have people who have complained recently.”