Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has come under heavy criticism from the donor community and local media fraternity over what many have termed as arbitrary and unconstitutional directive to fire editors at 13 media stations for covering live the brutal arrest of MP Robert Kyagulanyi aka Bobi Wine.
The criticism has come nearly from all corners of the pro-human rights and democracy circles including donors, media scholars, politicians and journalists themselves.
The African Centre for Media Excellence ACME, hit out at UCC for what it calls reprehensible and arbitrary orders and demanded that the order be rescinded immediately.
“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,” ACME said in a statement.
On Thursday May 2, 2019 UCC directed the proprietors of 13 electronic media houses to immediately suspend 39 producers, heads of programming and heads of news for alleged breach of minimum broadcasting standards while covering the arrest of Kyadondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi.
ACME argued however that UCC uses the blanket directives to silence media freedoms.
“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.”
The donor community including 15 embassies of the most important development partners joined the media fraternity to call UCC to reverse its directive.
The donors full statement reads thus:
The European Union Delegation, the Heads of Mission of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and UK and the Heads of Mission of Iceland, Japan, Norway, Republic of Korea and United States issue the following statement in Uganda.
We are deeply concerned with a series of recent incidents restricting the freedom of expression and freedom of assembly in Uganda. Of particular concern to us is the Uganda Communications Commission’s decision, on April 30, to suspend senior staff members of 13 radio and television stations on allegations of breaching minimum broadcasting standards. We are also concerned about the excessive use of force by Ugandan police and security services against peaceful protesters and political opposition.
We note that Uganda’s Constitution, as well as regional and international standards, guarantees both freedom of speech and expression as well as freedom of assembly. We urge the Government of Uganda to ensure the implementation of all the relevant laws and regulations in a way that allows all Ugandans, regardless of political affiliation, to exercise fully and without fear their basic democratic rights enshrined in the Constitution.
Finally, we underline the importance of upholding judicial processes and stress the importance of full respect for the Rule of Law and the right to a fair trial as set down in the Constitution.
Opposition Politicians also expressed regret about the order and noted that the directive would hurt the country’s tourism and undermines accountability on the part of the government especially law enforcement agencies in upholding and protecting human rights.
Kira municipality MP Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda said the negative publicity arising from Uganda’s decline in media freedoms is attracting negative publicity in the international media, which in turn is hurting tourism.
The State Minister for Housing Dr. Chris Baryomunsi yesterday defended UCC while responding to concerns by Opposition MPs. Baryomunsi said UCC acted within the law. He advised those arrived to seek redress from courts of law.