Photo caption: Committe chair Dr Peter Mwesige hands the UBC review report to ICT Minister Frank Tumwebaze.
A committee set up to review the shortcomings, structure and products of Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) has said that while the public broadcaster is plagued by long-standing institutional problems and is mired in debt, it should not be allowed to fail.
The committee chaired by African Centre for Media Excellence executive director, Dr Peter Mwesige, this week submitted its report to the Minister of ICT and National Guidance after an exhaustive three-month long inquiry. It gathered and reviewed evidence about UBC from a wide range of stakeholders from government, regulatory authorities, political parties, civil society, industry players and the general public.
Underscoring the report is the finding that UBC “has been mismanaged, chronically underfunded, and not treated like a public institution of strategic value”. However, in remarks made at the report handover ceremony, Mr Andrew Kibaya, the committee secretary, stressed that the solution does not lie in merely increasing funding for the public broadcaster. Rather, he said, “this report should be looked at holistically” and major decisions on the future of UBC must involve all interested parties including cabinet, parliament and the general public.
Dr Mwesige emphasised: “We don’t want to be part of a process of pouring public money into supporting a government or ruling party mouthpiece; public money should support a public broadcaster that serves and is accountable to the public.”
His statement reiterated the committee’s finding that there is little clarity and agreement within government and the Corporation on the place and role of UBC.
“Over the years,” Mr Kibaya said, “the government’s commitment to UBC has been half-hearted at best, with little effort to guarantee secure, predictable funding that can allow for medium and long-term planning.”
He added that this problem is compounded by UBC’s failure to obtain its independence and remain relevant to the public.
Uganda Broadcasting Corporation, a successor of state media houses Uganda Television and Radio Uganda, was established by an Act of Parliament in 2005. Among its core functions is to institute autonomy of management in rendering public broadcasting services and to set up national broadcasting standards through exemplary performance.
It is upon this and the premise that UBC is supposed to be an autonomous institution that serves all sections of the public that the committee based its review. On this front, however, it found that UBC had largely failed in its mission.
Mr Kibaya said that to rectify this problem, a change management process must be enacted to help the UBC board, management and staff appreciate and embrace the institution’s true mandate of a public broadcaster.
In line with this, the committee also called for the amendment of the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Act, 2005 to secure the broadcaster’s independence.
This recommendation to amend the UBC Act adds credence to several calls for a review of the law that have been made repeatedly in the past decade. In 2010, for instance, a survey report on broadcasting in Uganda published by the African Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project and the Open Society Initiative for East Africa proposed amendments to the Act to change the mission of UBC from serving the “government vision” to serving public interest. The report also suggested that the Act should have specific provisions to protect the independence of the broadcaster against influence from Cabinet and “from political interference and interference from other powerful forces in society that seek to influence it unduly”.
According to the review committee, in its current state the law has neither unequivocal guarantees of editorial independence, protections for the UBC board against interference, nor mechanisms to ensure that the public broadcaster’s funding is predictable and protected.
In addition to studying the legal, managerial and financial systems at UBC, the committee also assessed the Corporation’s programming and content, which it described as “unappealing”, leading the rapid loss of audiences and market share. Recommendations in this regard include research-driven programming, investment in local content and programmes of public interest, and responsiveness to the needs of citizens not the demands of the government of the day.
Mr Kibaya said committee is convinced “that Ugandans will be better served by a system that supports public broadcasting while at the same time allowing commercial, private and community broadcasting to blossom.” He added that while UBC does not inspire confidence in its current form, the committee is of the view that the Corporation is a “very important public institution which much strategic value” and if well managed it can “be a major boost in the promotion of the rights of all Ugandans to access information as well as freedom of expression”.
Mr Frank Tumwebaze, the Minister of ICT and National Guidance, assured the committee that the report would be dealt with holistically. He promised that a government White Paper on the report would be immediately commissioned and that the report would “be my guide as we start our revamp of UBC.”
The seven-person review committee comprised:
- Dr. Peter G. Mwesige (Chairman)
- Mr. Andrew Kibaya (Secretary)
- Mr. William Kato Bitarabeho (Member)
- Mr. Adolf Mbaine (Member)
- Mr. Peter Jabweli Okello (Member)
- Ms. Peace Piwang (Member)
- Mr. Odrek Rwabwogo (Member)