THE HON MINISTER FOR ICT AND NATIONAL GUIDANCE MADE A STATEMENT TO PARLIAMENT ON 4TH APRIL 2019 IN RESPONSE TO A MATTER RAISED BY HON. ALYEK JUDITH THE WOMAN MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT REPRESENTING KOLE DISTRICT ON CLOSURE OF UNITY FM-LIRA FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF MR. DICKENS OKELLO
Hon Frank Tumwebaze made these responses to the issue raised by Hon. Alyek Judith, Women Representative for Kole District regarding the alleged suspension of Radio programs In Lira by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) following the death of Mr Dickens Okello.
When this matter was first raised on the floor, the Hon. Minister of Internal Affairs informed the Honorable members on the circumstances leading to the death of Mr Dickens Okello and actions taken by security agencies to calm the situation. Therefore this response was limited to the actions taken by UCC on this matter.
The Minister reminded that UCC is established under the Uganda Communications Act 2013 as the regulator of the communications sector in Uganda, with the mandate to monitor, inspect, license, control and regulate communications services in Uganda. Section 5(1) of the Act further gives UCC the mandate to receive, investigate and arbitrate complaints relating to communications services in Uganda and take the necessary action.
Between 17th to 19th November 2018, UCC received several complaints from the leaders in Lira, specifically the RDC Lira, DPC Lira, Chairman LC.V Lira regarding the manner in which radio stations in the Lango Sub-region were covering the incidents relating to the death of a one Dickens Okello in Kole District on Friday 9th November 2018. It was alleged that the radio stations were inciting the public against the Indian community in Lira for allegedly being responsible for the murder of Dickens Okello. As a result, several Indians were attacked and their property looted by the angry mobs. This prompted the Police in Lira and security agencies to close Unity FM, for allegedly being the ring-leader in the incitement.
Following receipt of the complaints, UCC investigated the manner in which Unity FM was operating. This entailed UCC officers interviewing the relevant parties in Lira and listening to the recordings obtained from the radio. The investigations confirmed the following:
- Unity FM had, for the period between 9th November 2018 to 17th November 2018, aired many programs that were in breach of section 31 of the Uganda Communications Commission and the Minimum broadcasting standards.
- Unity FM had turned a crime under investigation into a subject of daily radio talk shows, wherein unstructured or unprofessional debate and discussion was allowed leading to incitement of violence against the Indian community.
- Unity FM breached the professional ethics by allowing live phone calls into the studio where people expressed their anger without control by the moderators or editors, and made unverified statements or pronouncements, declaring someone guilty without establishing the correctness of the statements and before a due court process had taken place.
All the statements and allegations made were pronounced with confidence and made to appear as if they had been proven to be true which is in breach of the professional ethics, which prohibits pronouncing statements before establishing their correctness.
- Unity FM presenters showed a lack of professionalism, where the moderators and editors became partisan and started blaming the police and Indians yet a moderator or journalist is supposed to be impartial.
- The show moderators allowed the public to make conclusions that Okello was killed by the Indians and encouraged the audience to revenge against the Indians living in Lira.
All the above findings were contrary to section 31 and Schedule 4 (a) (ii) of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, which in essence provides that a broadcaster shall ensure that any program which is broadcast does not promote the culture of violence or ethnical prejudice among the public.
As mandated by the law, following the conclusion of the investigations, ucc communicated the findings to the Directors of Unity FM who, in a letter dated 17th December 2018 acknowledged their mistakes, apologised and formally undertook to ensure compliance with the law.
In a letter dated 19th December 2018, ucc informed Unity FM of the outcome of the investigations and allowed the radio to resume operations with all its programmes. The radio is up to now on air and ucc is monitoring its compliance with the legal undertaking which the Directors signed.
CURRENT STATUS OF THE MATTER
Since 17th December 2018, Unity FM resumed operations. The radio however suspended some of its errant presenters for a period of 3 months up to 17th March 2019 to mitigate the risk of a re-occurrence of the breaches.
On the 30th of January 2019, four employees of Unity FM, to Wit: Akena Patrick Rolex, Otto Billie, Osendro Charles and Ojok Walter, sued UCC, the Attorney General, Mr Milton Odong, the RDC Lira, and Mr Joel Tubanone, the DPC Lira for alleged violation of their human rights. They are seeking for declaratory orders against how Police allegedly arrested them before Police closed unity FM. The case is Miscellaneous Cause No. 02 of 2019 in the High Court at Lira. Hearing of the case is set for 2nd of July 2019.
PROPOSED WAY FORWARD
It is essential to appreciate that Parliament passed the Uganda Communications Act 2013, wherein it gave UCC an oversight role of the communications sector. UCC has a duty to ensure that media players exercise their rights in accordance with the law. The media is supposed to be an impartial watchdog and not a facilitator for disharmony and racial attacks in society.
Since this matter is currently pending in Court, we should allow Court to hear and determine the rights of the parties.