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UCC’s Kaggwa: Social Media Accounts Excluded from Data Communication Regulations

Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has spoken out on the contentious data communication policy, saying the requirements do not affect social media accounts.

“As in persons posting on Twitter and Facebook, no,” Acting UCC Executive Director Eng Irene Kaggwa Ssewankambo told ChimpReports on Tuesday.

UCC had earlier said in a public notice that, “If your social media page is used to transmitting sound, video or data intended for simultaneous reception by the public (broadcasting) and data, we mean electronic representation of information in any form including audiovisual, you need authorization as a data communicator.”

This statement sparked a firestorm on social media with many accusing UCC of curtailing freedom of speech and expression.

People wondered why they would need to seek UCC’s authorization to share videos or pictures on their social media accounts.

Uganda is currently preparing for the 2021 general elections, raising fears that government could be aiming at curtailing the flow of information on the web.

Government has previously shut down internet during heated political moments including the 2016 general elections, citing security concerns.

According to the new requirements, all persons currently offering or planning to commence the provision of online data communication and services including but not limited to blogs, online televisions, online radios, online newspapers, audio over IP (AoIP), Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), Video on Demand (VoD), Digital Audio radios and televisions, internet/web television, to obtain authorization from UCC before providing such services to the public.

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Eng Kaggwa said the notice applies to a service, programme or arrangement that provides or transmits or distributes of audio-visual content via the Internet.

She said such a service is “comparable to the form and content of over the air broadcasting services, is distributed to the public and is distributed for commercial interest including advertising, sponsorship and subscription fees, and with editorial responsibility on the content put out.”

This includes online news websites, live streaming, web/Internet radio, web/Internet radio and media type blogs.

She said this requirement does not extend to  private communications between two or more people (such as WhatsApp groups), closed user groups, internal communication of a business, Government agency or other organisation for purpose of the operation of that business or agency or organisation.

Uganda’s internet subscribers rose to 21.6 million by first quarter of 2020, translating into an internet penetration rate of 48 internet users per 100 inhabitants.

Mobile subscriptions in Uganda stood at 26.7 million in December 2019, a 3 per cent jump from subscriptions in September 2019.

This growth translates into a penetration of 66 telephone lines per 100 as of December 2019, up from 63.7 lines per 100 at the end of September 2019.

Regulation

Eng Kaggwa today said the data regulation policy was introduced in 2018 after engagement of existing online data communication and broadcast players.

“To date, 48 players are already registered and working with UCC in this. Why do we regulate? To uphold our national values, protect our national identity, balance commercial and public interest, and oversee user redress mechanisms,” she added.

“This includes protection of minors, protection of the public from harmful, malicious, misleading and or illegal content. We also foster parity among similar market players towards leveling the playing field for all market plays. We also seek to promote the vibrancy of local content, protect creative industry rights, protect cultural diversity and foster media pluralism,” said Eng Kaggwa.

By regulating online media players, Eng Kaggwa said UCC seeks “to empower citizens to contribute to national development, foster the responsible enjoyment of freedom of expression and promote innovation all of which must be in conformity with Laws of Uganda.”

She said technology has broadened the platforms available for provision of broadcasting services.

“This, though, has been accompanied by a misinformation pandemic with grave consequences on lives, investment, development and trustworthiness of media as well as quality of information,” said Eng Kaggwa.

“These developments are also associated with user generation of content and citizen journalism with no regard of the practice standards of the journalism profession which seek to protect the public from harmful and illegal content as well as protect integrity of news.”

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