The media fraternity is up in arms over the UCC’s directive to suspend media managers, now known to be stepping aside to pave the way for investigations. The outcry is on the purported heavy-handedness of the regulator, purportedly punishing before giving fair hearing and issues around the mandate of the regulator, particularly whether the regulator has the powers to suspend or ask media managers to step aside even for an investigation.
The regulator had a meeting with the National Association of Broadcasters and affected broadcast stations to agree on a way forward. This was a welcome dialogue, and the parties agreed on continuous engagement. Some journalist and enthusiasts have also gone to court for alternative redress and are under judicial consideration.
That said, Is UCC suppressing the media? Let’s explore some guidance fronted by the regulator in line with the Minimum broadcasting standards.
Schedule 4 of the Uganda Communication’s Act, guides that a broadcaster or video operator should ensure that programmes do not promote the culture of violence or ethnical prejudice among the public, especially children and the youth.
It is crucial that programmes do not undermine public security interest or public confidence in the law and its enforcement in the country. This requires broadcasters to be vigilant against the likely effects of broadcast content on children. It is also necessary that broadcasters exercise considered judgement on the capacity of children, in different age groups, to cope with the depiction and treatment of material which may not be suitable.
The Commission further guides that broadcasters need to provide advisory notices for programme content which may be potentially disturbing or upsetting to enable viewers to make an informed choice. A parent may benefit from such advisory and excuse their vulnerable young children absorbing morbid, sensational and alarming images currently showing on some of the broadcast media.
Majority of the editorial policies of media houses spell out that factual programmes such as news, current affairs or documentary programmes should present information in an objective, accurate and balanced manner. This means that programmes should not present information or events in a manner likely to mislead or cause alarm to the public. This is particular to content that contains extremist or anarchic messages, or that may incite violence for political ends or other purposes.
It is a common occurrence to see interviews of bystanders at riot scenes and victims of teargas interviewed being derogatory, offensive and calling for blood. Meanwhile, such clips are reused over and over again for extended periods.
Broadcasters are guided to ensure that morbid, sensational or alarming details not essential to factual reporting are avoided. This is particularly so where images may seriously distress or offend viewers. For example, dead bodies should only be displayed in the clear public interest.
Equally, when a broadcaster decides to re-use archive material in a news and current affairs context, they should ensure that it does not create unfairness or result in inaccuracies. This guidance is supposed to enable producers and editors to make the necessary interventions.
Schedule 4 of the Uganda Communications Act also provides that a broadcaster should ensure that a programme is not likely to create public insecurity or violence. This calls for professionalism and precaution during editing and programming.
Therefore, having suggestions in programmes that justice can be achieved by violence, vigilante action or other means of taking law enforcement into one’s own hands should be avoided. Equally, the depiction of violence that may frighten, unnerve, unsettle or invite imitation, especially from children should also be avoided. Thus, where appropriate, only mild portrayals relevant to a plot should be used in programmes that are likely to be seen by children.
Broadcasters are guided that when considering concerns of violence, care should be given to the depiction of graphics/gratuitous violence, normalising the use of violence as a solution to resolve problems, the depiction of violent gangster behaviour and encouraging aggressive and sadistic attitudes towards infliction of pain and violence should also be avoided.
It is encouraged that broadcasters should have in place appropriate policies and procedures for handling contributions via social media to cater to the treatment of misinformation and disinformation. In the same vain, views and facts should not be misrepresented or presented in such a way as to render them misleading. Presenters should be sensitive to the impact of their language and tone in reporting news and current affairs to avoid public misunderstanding of the matters covered.
Broadcasters are further guided in the standards to exercise care when putting ‘live’ calls on air especially where topics involved are sensitive and comments made may be derogatory or offensive. The use of fictional personas (masqueraders) to voice distasteful and offensive viewpoints is discouraged. However, broadcasters who adopt such formats are responsible for all comments made by the fictional personas.
This is a regulatory perspective on standards for broadcast programmes and what is now popularly referred to as censorship. Otherwise, there is also a possibility that some elements in the media have been “weaponised” for selfish ends and it is fortunate or unfortunate that it is the role of the regulator to act as a referee for fair, objective and balanced broadcasting of news and current affairs.