The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) and stakeholders in the media and electoral process including; the Electoral Commission, Uganda Media Council (UMC), National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), the Uganda Police Force and Rural Broadcasters Association on Wednesday held meeting at UCC headquarters in Kampala on the guidelines on the use of media during the electoral period.
When the Electoral Commission banned all mass campaign rallies and announced “scientific elections” where campaigns would be conducted through the media in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19 pandemic, UCC, in consultation with other stakeholders including the Uganda Media Council, NAB, Ministry of ICT and National Guidance and media practitioners developed guidelines for electoral period to have fundamental rules of fair play.
The fact that communication regulators and the Electoral Commission would not buy space for political contenders to campaign, the UCC Head of Legal and Compliance, Abudu Sallam Waiswa called on media houses to follow the guidelines and not charge exorbitant fees from political contenders.
“Do not use this chance to extort money from political contenders. In charging political adverts, charge the lowest cost possible such that their (candidates’) message is heard across the country,” he said.
Just a few weeks into campaigning, various candidates have decried high fares charged by media houses while others especially on the opposition have been denied access to radio stations especially up country.
In response to this, Waiswa said, “during election period, an operator shall ensure equitable coverage and opportunity is given to all contenders. Provide balanced and adequate opportunity for citizens, candidates and political parties to express divergent political views. No discrimination.”
This, however, could be hard since the whole of Uganda has 321 radio stations, 48 TV stations and 46 online publications that could find it challenging to equitably cover all the political contenders.
The UCC Executive Director Irene Kaggwa said the media has a role to inform and educate and therefore plays a crucial part in the elections.
“We keep saying the media has a role to inform but the media also has a role to educate and you have the privilege of the fact that the public believes in you. It is important that you protect that trust of the public to be the source of authentic, credible, balanced information that helps them (public) make informed decisions and bring harmony among all of us,” she said.
The chairman of National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), Kin Kaliisa said that although the guidelines are okay, they need to be interpreted.
“How do you interpret these guidelines? When you talk of fairness, what is fairness? There are 11 candidates. These media houses with the resources they have in this pandemic that we have today where the resources have been reduced by 80%, I don’t think these media houses will have the resources to cover equitably or fairly to give them (candidates) equal media space in their news,” he said.
Kaliisa also decried harassment of reporters most especially by security forces during riots.
“Some of our journalists have been traumatized and beaten by political activists and in some incidences some security people have also been involved in harassing our people (journalists),” said Kaliisa.