ACME statement – UCC must reverse its directive to media houses to suspend staff

For Immediate Release

2 May 2019

Kampala

The African Centre for Media Excellence strongly condemns the directive by Uganda Communications Commission, the broadcast regulator, to seven radio and six television stations to suspend key editorial staff for alleged breach of minimum broadcasting standards. UCC is engaging in regulatory overreach in  ordering Akaboozi FM, BBS TV, Beat FM, Bukedde TV, Capital FM, CBS FM, Kingdom TV, NBS TV, NTV, Pearl FM, Salt TV, Sapientia FM and Simba FM to suspend their producers, heads of news, and heads of programmes pending conclusion of investigations into the nature of the alleged breach. The 30 April 2019 order is reprehensible and arbitrary and must be reversed immediately.

UCC accuses the stations of carrying content, especially during live broadcasts of breaking news, that “Misrepresents information, views, facts and events in a manner likely to mislead or cause alarm to the public; Has extremist or anarchic messages, including incitement of violence for political and/or other purposes; [and] Incites the public against other members of the public based on their political, religious, cultural and tribal affiliations which are likely to create public insecurity or violence.” The allegations are broad and vague and only the UCC is arrogating itself the right to interpret what they mean. It is clear that what set off the UCC is the live coverage of the fracas surrounding the arrest on 29 April 2019 of Member of Parliament Robert Kyagulanyi, better known by his music stage name Bobi Wine, for an offence he allegedly committed in July 2018 when he led protests against taxes on mobile money and social media.

The sheer scale and reach of the UCC directive beggars belief and brings into question the regulator’s motives. It appears that UCC will not tolerate coverage that shows the government, especially the security services, in unflattering light. It is not as if when journalists carry live feed of an egregiously brutal arrest of a prominent public figure they are making up the story. Over the years, UCC has acted cynically with the aim of controlling, not regulating, the broadcast industry. Its latest directive will cripple newsgathering operations, hamper the free flow of news and other information, and trigger a chilling effect on the media industry as a whole. Whereas the Constitution provides for some very narrow limits to speech and whereas we do not contest the mandate of UCC as a regulator, we denounce its overbearing methods including assigning itself the right to punish staff of private media companies. It’s also disturbing that UCC issued its infamous directive in the week when we are celebrating World Press Freedom Day.

UCC must correct this mistake by rescinding its order and apologising to Ugandans.

Meanwhile, we encourage those entities seeking court intervention to do so right away. We also urge Parliament, the wider political class, civil society, and the media to take keen interest in the operations of UCC to ensure a more transparent communication and media regulation regime.

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ABOUT AFRICAN CENTRE FOR MEDIA EXCELLENCE: ACME is a Kampala-based independent, non-profit professional organisation committed to excellence in journalism and mass communication in Africa. The organisation fulfils its mandate through refresher training for mid-career journalists; media literacy training for civil society organisations, corporate companies and others; media research; free expression advocacy; and media monitoring. For further information, please contact Dr Peter Mwesige on +256-784-471-527; mwesige@acme-ug.org

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