Thursday, 21 April 2011


Uganda Broadcasting Council warns on walk-to-work coverage
By John Njoroge

Posted Wednesday, April 20 2011 at 00:00


The Uganda Broadcasting Council (UBC) has warned broadcasters it would take “appropriate action” against any media house that airs material deemed to promote the culture of violence, ethnic prejudice and public insecurity, emerging details show.

Under the ‘Minimum Broadcasting Standards’ of the Electronic Media Act, broadcasters or video operators are required to ensure that programmes they air do not promote violence, are not distorted and are in compliance with “the existing law”.

Quoting that law, UBC interim board chairman Godfrey Mutabazi told broadcasters last week that several complaints had been received about the manner in which some of them were reporting the walk-to-work demonstrations, especially in Kampala.

Some broadcasters, Mr Mutabazi said, were “portraying the events in such a way as to compromise public security.” “We have held discussions in respect of these broadcasts with different broadcasters generally,” Mr Mutabazi wrote in his April 15 letter. “This serves therefore as a caution to all broadcasters to be impartial and factual in their reporting, to avoid being sensational and to ensure balance in the way broadcasts are portrayed.”

Several radio and television broadcasters this newspaper spoke to yesterday said while Mr Mutabazi quoted the law correctly, they were, however, anxious that it can be interpreted selectively. “It is a bad law,” a director of one broadcaster told this newspaper.

Bad law
“We were instructed not to air footage in real time. Unless the current law is changed, the regulator can stop us,” he added. And in other developments, Mr Mutabazi said yesterday that another letter dated April 14 from the Uganda Communications Council (UCC) to telecom and Internet service providers had been misinterpreted. He added that the UCC, which he also heads, would release a statement soon explaining exactly what they intended to convey when the Internet service providers were on Thursday asked to “block the use of Facebook and Tweeter (sic) for 24 hours as of now; that is April 14 at 3.30pm to eliminate the connection and sharing of information that incites the public”.

According to the letter, UCC’s Mr Quinto Ojok, who was acting in place of Mr Mutabazi, asked the providers to temporarily block the two social media networks last Thursday. By press time yesterday reports indicated that Mr Ojok, who first stood by his communication when he spoke to this newspaper through a spokesman on Monday, was now of two minds over the matter.

Suggestions of internal strife over this matter were, however, evident in Mr Mutabazi’s insistence last evening that the said letter was, indeed, despatched by the UCC – although he was not party to the framing of the document.

The April 14 letter said UCC had received complaints from security that there was need to minimise the use of the media that may escalate violence in light of the walk-to-work campaign. Sections of the public have since expressed outrage at the reports. The two social networks have been one of the channels for communication for people interested in what is going on in the country.