UCC outs report, ponders cancelling 13 TVs, radios licences

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An investigation into the alleged breach of minimum broadcasting standards by 13 broadcasters has found a number of them culpable and recommended a range of actions, including asking them to show cause why Uganda Communications Commission shouldn’t revoke their licenses.

NTV, NBS, BBS, Bukedde TV and Radio Sapientia must all show cause why the regulator shouldn’t revoke their licenses, while Salt TV, Capital FM, CBS and Radio Simba are to be cautioned.

As for Radio Two Akaboozi and Beat FM, investigators found no evidence of a breach but, like many others, they were faulted on failing to install pre-listening and delay devices and contravening the Press and Journalists Act.

Pearl FM was singled out for its programme “The Inside Story”, which the report says should be suspended, while Kingdom TV is on the spot for failing to notify UCC about changes in its programming.

The investigation, according to the 52-page report, was sparked by complaints from security agencies to the effect that a section of radio and television stations were broadcasting content that was contrary to the minimum broadcasting standards enshrined in Section 31 and Schedule 4 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013.

The UCC responded by instituting investigations in accordance with sections 5(1)(j), 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 and 32 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013. In addition, the affected 13 stations were asked to have their producers, editors and heads of programs step aside to protect the public against the risk of further breach of the law and standards, and to ensure smooth investigations.

From the report’s findings, most of the broadcasters investigated were found to have been in breach of various laws, standards and license terms and conditions. Most of the breaches related to a failure by the broadcasters to adhere to the minimum broadcasting standards and the standards for general broadcast programming in Uganda. Investigators also found widespread non-compliance with the Press and Journalists Act.

The report indicates that the Uganda Police and other security agencies reported they had received intelligence information to the effect that certain persons were mobilising members of the public to gang against security agencies and force their way towards vital government installations in order to disrupt peace and security. The security agencies were also concerned that the continuous live coverage of exchanges between rioting crowds and security personnel, including one-sided interviews, was intended to incite the public against their lawful actions

In addition to the concerns of security agencies, the Commission also received complaints from concerned members of the public who expressed fears that the manner in which some broadcasters were repeatedly showing violent clashes between the police and rowdy crowds was threatening their safety, that of their children and businesses.

Meanwhile, the Commission had also, on its own, observed a growing trend of some broadcasters disregarding the prescribed minimum broadcasting standards. The Commission had, for instance, noted the increasing number of live programs, breaking news stories and prime news bulletins being dominated by misrepresentation of information, incitement of violence; unbalanced content; sensational reporting; and giving undue prominence to certain individuals and events in a manner likely to mislead or cause alarm to the public.

The mandate of the Commission

Established by the Uganda Communications Act 2013, UCC is vested with the regulation, control, monitoring and licensing of communication services in Uganda, including broadcasting.

In addition, the Commission is mandated to receive, investigate and arbitrate complaints relating to communications services, and to take necessary action.

This mandate, the report says, is in keeping with the constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of speech and all other rights associated with broadcasters. Article 29(1)(a) of the Constitution provides that every person shall have a right to freedom of speech and expression, which shall include freedom of the press and other media. However, the report is quick to add that as with all other rights; these rights cannot be enjoyed at the expense of the law or the rights of others.

Article 43(1) of the constitution states: “In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.”

The same provision, however, clarifies in Article 43(2) that public interest shall not permit political persecution, detention without trial and any limitation on rights and freedoms that is beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society.

“Accordingly, the broadcasting standards set out under the law are aimed at ensuring that in exercising their rights, broadcasters do not infringe upon the rights of others, break the law or compromise national security (public interest). This is an established norm the world over, and it was in this spirit that the Commission proceeded with the investigation following reports of breach,” the report states.

On the narrative in the media that the action taken by UCC was an encroachment on press freedom, the report clarifies that it was simply an administrative measure backed by relevant laws.

“The directive to order individual producers, editors and heads of news to step aside was never intended to stifle any particular person’s right. This was a purely administrative measure that the Commission, in exercise of its broad investigative mandate under the Uganda Communications Act, deemed necessary for purposes of protecting the public against the potential continued risk of harmful content produced, edited and presented to the public by the same individuals that were subject of the investigations,” the report says.

The report also addresses the view that the Commission’s powers do not extend to staff within the media houses under its regulatory jurisdiction.

“Contrary to arguments by a section of the public that the Commission’s regulatory mandate does not extend to personnel, Section 32 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 empowers the Commission to ensure that the professional code of ethics contained in the Press and Journalists Act is adhered to,” the report states.

“The same provision empowers the Commission to modify the professional code of ethics for journalists where it is deemed necessary in order to ensure that content carried on communication platforms complies with the Uganda communications Act and any other relevant law. Therefore, any matter that pertains to broadcasting falls within the Commission’s regulatory mandate, and this includes individuals.”

For the most part, the report is hinged on the minimum broadcasting standards embedded in the Uganda Communications Act 2013 (Schedule 4), standards for broadcast programming in Uganda, and the Penal Code.

According to Schedule 4, a broadcaster or video operator shall ensure that any program which is broadcast;

Is not contrary to public morality

Does not promote a culture of violence or ethnic prejudice

In the case of a news broadcast, is free from distortion of facts

Is not likely to create public insecurity or violence

Is in compliance with the existing law

Findings and recommendations

Having been found culpable for contravening minimum broadcasting standards, the report recommends that Radio Sapientia, Bukedde TV, NTV, NBS TV and BBS are given notice to show cause why the Commission should not invoke Section 41 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013. Section 41 covers suspension and revocation of a broadcaster’s license in case of serious and repeated breach.

It is also recommended that the said TV stations be required to train their news reporters, producers and editors in professional reporting, emphasising key provisions of the law and the standards.

NBS and NTV, in particular, are to be asked to demonstrate that they have adequate measures in place “to ensure that news reporters, anchors, producers and editors remain impartial and non-partisan in the course of their work.” This observation is derived from the finding that some reporters are taking sides in political debates.

Salt TV, Capital FM, CBS and Radio Simba were all said to be largely compliant, with some mistakes acknowledged and promises made to improve. They are to be cautioned.

As for Radio Two Akaboozi and Beat FM, the report says there was no evidence of a breach so it’s recommended that no action be taken against the stations.

On Pearl FM, the report states that UCC has previously warned the station about similar breaches. Investigators took exception of a show known as the “Inside story”, which they said is not well structured and the presenter “does not seem to have credible sources for the information upon which the show is based.” The report says that if the show is not redefined and adequate controls put in place, “it is likely to alarm the public and become a platform for fueling political propaganda, which can result in violence.”

The report, therefore, recommends that “Inside Story” be immediately suspended until “Pearl FM can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the Commission that it has instituted adequate measures to improve this show.”

Concerning Kingdom TV, it was established the station had no news bulletin on the said date.

“The allegations against Kingdom TV were not backed by adequate evidence to warrant further investigation,” the report says. However, the station was reminded that under the terms and conditions of its license, they ought to notify the Commission of any significant changes in their programming.

For failing to submit all the required documents, Radio Sapientia will be required to show cause why regulatory sanctions should not be taken against it in accordance with Section 41 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013.

Additional broadcasting breaches

In addition to the breaches in respect of content that was aired on 29th April 2019, the investigation also considered compliance with other relevant laws, license terms and conditions.

The violations in this case are mostly in relation to infringement of the Press and Journalists Act, particularly with regard to enrollment and certification of journalists contrary to sections 26 and 27 of the Press and Journalists Act, registration of Head of News, Head of Programs and Producer (contrary to Section 5 of the Press and Journalist Act).

Sections 30, 31, and 32 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 require personnel running a licensed broadcast house to have qualifications required of them by the Media Council under the Press and Journalists Act.

The broadcasters were also faulted for having no sufficient safeguards in their editorial policies to address conflict of interest of staff, as well as failure to install pre-listening and delay devices as agreed with the Commission.

The report was on Monday, 7th October 2019, availed to the concerned broadcasters and other stakeholders.

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