On the 29th of April 2019, the Uganda Communications Commission (“the Commission”) received complaints from security agencies reporting that a section of broadcasters in Uganda were broadcasting content that was contrary to the Minimum Broadcasting Standards as provided in Section 31 and schedule 4 of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013.
Following the complaints, the Commission, in the exercise of its mandate under sections 5(1)( j), 27, 28, 29, 30, 31 and 32 of the Uganda Communications Commission Act 2013, made a decision to investigate the reports it had received.
The Commission, vide a letter dated 30th April 2019, notified 13 (thirteen) broadcasters of the said complaints made against them and informed them that an investigation had been instituted to ascertain the veracity of the complaints against the respective broadcasters.
To avoid interference with the investigations and to protect the public against the risk of further and repeated breach of the law and the standards, the Commission directed the subject broadcasters to have the producers, editors and heads of the impugned programmes take leave of their duties in order to pave the way for smooth investigations.
The affected broadcasters were: NBS TV, NTV, BBS TV, Salt TV, Bukedde TV, Kingdom TV, Sapientia FM, Capital FM, Akaboozi FM, Radio Simba, CBS, Pearl FM and Beat FM.
NATURE OF COMPLAINT
The investigation was prompted by informal complaints from the Uganda Police Force and other security agencies, informing the commission that they had received intelligence information to the effect that:
- Some personalities were mobilising members of the public to gang up against security agencies and force their way towards vital government installations to disrupt peace and security of the country.
- That the continuous live coverage of exchanges between rioting crowds and security agencies, was creating the inaccurate impression that the country was descending into chaos, and the interviews conducted during many of the live broadcasts were unprofessional, partial and intended to rile up the emotions of the public against the lawful actions of the Police and other security agencies in carrying out their duties to maintain law and order.
Further, the unprofessional and biased mode of reporting riled up demonstrators who were being encouraged to confront, ignore and resist Police instructions. The security organs opined that this was likely to ignite countrywide demonstrations against security agencies and thereby compromise the security of the nation.
In addition to the reports from the security agencies, the Commission also received complaints from concerned members of the public over fears that the manner in which some broadcasters were repeatedly showing and reporting violent clashes between the Police and the rowdy crowds, was threatening their personal safety and the security of their businesses. Other members of the public raised concerns over the safety of their children.
The Commission had also observed a growing trend amongst some broadcasters neglecting their obligation to abide by the prescribed minimum broadcasting standards. This was demonstrated by the increasing number of live programmes, breaking news stories and prime news bulletins being dominated by:
- Content that misrepresented information, views, facts and events in a manner likely to mislead or cause alarm to the public.
- Content with extremist or anarchic messages, including incitement of violence for political and/or other purposes.
- Unbalanced content that had the likelihood of inciting the public against other members of the public on the basis of their political, religious, cultural and tribal affiliations which is likely to create public insecurity and/or violence.
- Content that was presented in a manner that was unbalanced, sensational and often gave undue prominence to specific individuals and/or groups of people.
- Content that was likely to incite violence.
It was upon this background that the Commission exercised its mandate to investigate the veracity of the reports.
GENERAL MANDATE OF THE COMMISSION
The Commission was established by section 4 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and clothed with the mandate to regulate, control, monitor and license communication services in Uganda, including broadcasting.
Sections 5(1)(a), (j), (i), (h), m, (k), and (x) of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013 specifically mandates the Commission to among others:
- Monitor, inspect, license, supervise, control and regulate communications services;
- receive, investigate and arbitrate complaints relating to communications services, and to take necessary action;
- coordinate and collaborate with the relevant national and international organisations in matters relating to communications;
- set national standards and ensure compliance with national and international standards and obligations laid down by international communications agreements and treaties to which Uganda is a party;
- promote and safeguard the interests of consumers and operators as regards the quality of communications services and equipment;
- improve communications services generally and to ensure equitable distribution of services throughout the country; and vii.set standards, monitor and enforce compliance relating to content.
It is in the exercise of the above mandate that the Commission instituted an investigation against the 13 (thirteen) media houses following reports/complaints that content that was being aired on their respective platforms violated among others, section 31 and Schedule 4 of the Uganda Communications Act, 2013.
The Commission derives its investigative mandate from sections 5(1)(j) and 45(1)(a) of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and Regulation 28 of the Communications (Practice and Procedure) Regulations S.I No. 21 of 2005, which broadly empower the Commission to investigate any matter within its functions under the Act.
Section 5 (1)(j) of the Act provides that the Commission is mandated to receive, investigate and arbitrate complaints relating to communication services and take necessary action.
Section 45(1)(a) provides that the Commission may investigate any matter within its function under this Act which relates to communication services or apparatus provided or supplied in Uganda.
Considering the fact that the complaints in issue related to a matter that is core to the Commission’s routine mandate, the Investigation was undertaken by a team of internal Commission staff from the Directorates of Industrial and Content Affairs, Legal, Engineering and Corporate Affairs.
It is important to note that the mandate given to the Commission is in keeping with the constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of speech and all other rights associated with broadcasters. As with all other rights, these rights cannot be enjoyed at the expense of the law or the rights of others.
Article 29(1)(a) of the Constitution provides that every person shall have a right to freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media.
However, Article 43 of the Constitution provides for a general limitation on fundamental and other human rights and freedoms. In the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms prescribed in this Chapter, no person shall prejudice the fundamental or other human rights and freedoms of others or the public interest.
Accordingly, the broadcasting standards set out under the law are aimed at ensuring that in exercising their own rights, broadcasters do not infringe upon the rights of others, break the law or compromise national security (public interest). This is an established norm the world over, and it was in this spirit that the Commission proceeded with the investigation following reports of a breach.
OBJECTIVES OF THE INVESTIGATION
The investigation sought to achieve the following objectives:
a) To determine whether the programmes that were aired by the respective broadcasters on the 29th of April 2019 complied with the Minimum Broadcasting Standards, but most specifically whether the impugned programmes:
- Misrepresented information, views, facts and events in a manner likely to mislead or cause alarm to the public;
- Contained extremist or anarchic messages, including incitement of violence;
- Sections of the public against other members of the public based on their political, religious, cultural and tribal affiliations that are likely to create public insecurity or violence; and
- Were presented in a manner that was unbalanced, sensational and gave undue prominence to specific individuals and/or groups of people.
b) To establish whether the individual producers, Heads of News and Head(s) of programmes possess the requisite academic and professional qualifications for the roles and duties they discharge in the respective broadcasting entities as provided under the law.
c) To assess the general level of compliance by broadcasters and recommend measures to improve the sector.