Live TV coverage ban lifted, but conditions don’t satisfy Uganda broadcasters

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has lifted the ban on live television broadcasts following a meeting with the National Association of Broadcasters held on Thursday 5 October.

The ban on live TV coverage was enforced after several stations broadcast brawls that broke out in Parliament ahead of the tabling of a Constitution Amendment Bill that proposes the removal of the presidential age limit. UCC ordered all media houses to stop the live coverage of the parliamentary proceedings on the basis that the broadcasts were likely to incite violence.

During the meeting between the regulator and the National Association of Broadcasters it was agreed that the ban would be lifted for media houses that have live broadcast pre-editing software.

“There must be a one minute delay before broadcast to be able to edit the content that is going out,” Ms Pamela Ankunda, head of public and international relations at UCC says.

“Media houses that don’t have that delayed feed technology have three months within which to install it. In the meantime, they will have to get feed from other media houses,” she explains.

Ankunda says requirement of pre-editing equipment by UCC is not new, but part of a 2011 memorandum of understanding that was signed by the National Association of Broadcasters.

The memorandum of understanding does specifically address the widely reported claims that UCC has ordered some media houses not to host opposition Members of Parliament on their talk shows. Ankunda says everyone is free to participate in the talk shows, “but it is up to the interviewer or show host to be responsible enough guide their guests.”

Mr Kin Kariisa, chair of the National Association of Broadcasters, says the memorandum of understanding needs to a fresh look.

“Many times, the regulator hides under ‘minimum standards’ to curtail the media. So we need to sit together with UCC and review this memorandum that we signed with them six years ago,” he says.

Next week the National Association of Broadcasters will forward names to constitute a committee that will, together with UCC, review the 2011 memorandum of understanding and the minimum broadcasting standards.

The minimum broadcasting standards, spelled out in the Uganda Communications Commission Act of 2013, require TV and radio stations to abide by a range of requirements that include the prohibition of programmes promote violence and ethnic prejudice, and those that are likely to create public insecurity or violence. Media analysts across the country are concerned that the minimum broadcasting standards are being invoked to stop free speech and dissenting public opinion.

Ms Catherine Anite, a media rights advocate, says the resolution between UCC and the National Association of Broadcasters is not satisfactory because delayed feed of live coverage denies people information on issues of public interest.

“The memorandum of understanding they are talking about is not even legislated,” Anite argues, “Delaying feed to edit out information deemed harmful denies citizens the right to access of information. This contravenes Article 41 of the Constitution.”

Article 41 gives every citizen a right to information in possession of the State or state agencies. Exceptions are made where information released may prejudice the security of the State or interfere with the right to privacy of another person.

Anite says the minimum broadcasting standards are “vague and ambiguous” and do not provide for pre-editing.  She posits that instead of regulating, UCC is controlling the media.

This is not the first time the Government of Uganda has regulated live broadcasts of programmes with a political bent. Seven years ago, the Media Council shut down all open-air political radio talk shows, commonly known as bimeeza, on the basis that the stations did not have adequate facilities to monitor the live broadcasts. In 2009 unnamed State operates visited several TV and radio stations to prevent live coverage of civil unrest that broke out when the Kabaka of Buganda and his delegation were prevented from visiting Kayunga district.

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