Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has issued its investigation report into the alleged breach of minimum broadcasting standards by 13 broadcasters, saying it found a number of them culpable but exonerated others.
The report recommended a range of actions, including asking the NTV, NBS, BBS, Bukedde TV and Radio Sapientia to 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,” UCC said in a statement on Monday afternoon.
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 the law.
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.
Broadcasters protested the move, saying it was meant to curtail press freedom.
Others accused UCC of being high-handed in managing the broadcasting industry.
On its part UCC, dismissed the accusations, saying its actions were intended to contain inciting content which would cultivate ground for lawlessness.
The report now indicates that 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 up 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, threaten their safety, that of their children and businesses.
Meanwhile, the Commission said it had also, on its own, 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 investigation report 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.”
UCC said this observation was derived from the finding that some reporters were 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.”
Regarding 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.
UCC said violations were 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, October 7 availed to the concerned broadcasters and other stakeholders.
UCC, which 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 says 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.”