Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has reiterated that opposition politicians should not be denied access to upcountry media especially radio stations, but added that the politicians should know that there are minimum broadcasting standards.
The UCC Executive Director, Irene Kaggwa sounded the cation on Monday after holding a closed door meeting with the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) concerning the use and access of different media platforms during the 2021 general elections.
“We all recognized Article 29 of the Constitution of Uganda and the fact that this provides for a right to speech and expression. However, we also recognize that many actors seem to be oblivious of limitations that come with enjoyment of these rights that are specified under the Constitution” said Mrs Kaggwa.
The opposition has on many occasions alleged that upcountry radio stations have refused to host their candidates on grounds that UCC would revoke their licenses.
In response, Mrs Kaggwa said, “the law is very clear in terms of making sure that you cover in a balanced manner. A lot of the stories end up with bias.”
She however noted that if any candidate is aggrieved, it is their right to complain, adding that the guidelines developed in consultation with the media industry and made recommendation to Electoral Commission provide for that right.
“If the radio station is in your area and you want to use it or is in any other area that you feel is how you will get your targeted supporters, you have your right as a candidate to go and approach them and they are under duty to provide you the service. The conditions under which they will deny you service are also clear. Are you giving them (radio stations) adequate notice? Because you are not going to come in the morning and say I want to be on your station today. You have to give them time so that they schedule you. Those are issues that you find you have been violated,” she said.
Instead of making complaints, Mrs Kaggwa tasked the (opposition politicians) to put their facts to relevant authorities such as UCC and EC.
Meanwhile, Mrs Kaggwa told media that circulation of fake news especially on social media in regards to the upcoming elections has also been widely addressed in the meeting with Uganda Human Rights Commission.
“We discussed the pressing issue of the information pandemic in which we see an increase in dissemination especially due to social media and messaging platforms, of false, fake information, misinformation and disinformation, and talked about the dangers this poses to all of us and different initiatives that can be done to be able to strengthen and minimize or eradicate this problem,” she said.
She noted that they recently had an engagement with Facebook on how to tackle the challenge.
The other issue discussed, she said was the cost of communication services considering the impact of social media tax (OTT), the cost candidates are faced with in terms of getting access to the media houses especially the privately owned media, now that the Electoral Commission banned mass campaign rallies and candidates have to campaign through the media.
“As UCC, we have engaged the media houses and they are aware of this obligation that they too have to provide access to candidates on a non-discriminatory basis. So, when you provide access for one on conditions, you cannot change conditions for the similar services to another candidate and the right of a candidate to lodge a complaint if they are subjected to such discrimination,” she said.
The discussion also tackled the use of megaphones commonly known as “Bizindalo” and according to Kaggwa, there are discussions going on between UCC, National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and the Electoral Commission so that clear guidance is provided to all candidates in respect to how they will be used without becoming a problem to other members of the community.
On the issue of vulnerable groups, both the UCC and UHRC unanimously agreed that nobody should be left behind.
The acting chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission, Katebareirwe Amooti Irumba said vulnerable groups such as women, the poor, persons with disabilities among others have as well been prioritized.
“We raised these concerns in our advisory and in our meeting here and we found that the approach that UCC has taken in terms of regulating the work, guiding the media and so on, take care of these concerns,” he said.
In light of the above, the two government bodies agreed to have joint activities to increase awareness and protect the rights of every Ugandan citizen.