It is worth noting that the mandate of the Commission in regulating broadcasters involves the broadcasters’ compliance with other laws. Sections 30, 31, and 32 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 requires personnel running a licensed broadcast house to be in possession of qualifications required of them by the Media Council under the Press and Journalists Act Cap 105.
Section 30 of the Uganda Communications Act lucidly provides that a person shall not be appointed to be a producer of a broadcasting station if that person does not among others; possess the requisite qualifications prescribed by the Media Council.
Sections 5, 6, and 7 of the Press and Journalist Act Cap 105 provide that upon appointing an editor, a media house shall register such person with the Media council. This provision requires that such person shall have attained the requisite qualifications and experience to work in such a position for him/her to be successfully registered.
Further, sections 26 and 27 of the Press and Journalist Act Cap 105 provide for the registration and the issuance of practising certificates to journalists. Section 27 thereof stipulates that a person shall not practice journalism unless he or she is in possession of a valid practising certificate issued under the section. Practising as a journalist without a practising certificate issued by the Media council is an offence.
The policy objectives behind all the aforesaid professional requirements is to ensure that personnel running broadcast houses, especially in the roles of producer and editor, who are the gatekeepers for all content to be aired, are appropriately trained and adequately equipped with the requisite professional and academic skills to ensure responsible and ethical broadcasting.
It, therefore, follows that it falls within the Commission’s mandate in regulating broadcasters to ensure that the individuals in their employment have qualifications required by law to carry out their functions.
The Commission notes with concern that many of the breaches that have been unveiled by this investigation are mainly attributable to the fact that an alarming number of individuals who are appointed to supervisory roles such as producers and editors in broadcast houses, do not have the requisite qualifications as required under the law and are not adequately trained or otherwise possessed with adequate professional commitment to good journalism.
Considering the critical role that is played by broadcasters in shaping the development and political agenda of any country, it is essential that players in the broadcasting sector rise to the occasion in ensuring compliance with the requirements under the Uganda Communications Act and the Press and Journalist Act Cap 105.
As the regulator of the communications sector in Uganda with the statutory duty to protect the public against offensive broadcasts which are often the result of bad journalism, the Commission shall, from now onwards, strictly enforce compliance with the law and the license terms and conditions of broadcasters by ensuring that all content broadcast to the public meets the required standards.
Contrary to arguments by a section of the public that the Commission’s regulatory mandate does not extend to personnel in broadcasting entities, section 32 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, empowers the Commission to ensure that the Professional Code of Ethics contained in the Press and Journalists Act is adhered to.
The same provision enables the Commission to modify the Professional Code of Ethics for journalists where deemed necessary to ensure that content carried on communication platforms complies with the Uganda communications Act of 2013 and any other relevant law. Therefore any matter that pertains to broadcasting falls within the Commission’s regulatory mandate, and this includes individuals and actions while on air.
Further Section 39 (4)(a) of the Uganda Communications Act empowers the Commission to prescribe terms and conditions of all operators licensed under the Act including setting conditions for and circumstances in which persons may install or use in electronic communication platforms licensed and regulated by the Commission.
It is therefore manifest that the Commission is mandated with the power to regulate content and the persons in charge of producing and or making available such content to the public through regulated communication platforms.
Where the Commission believes that a particular individual in the broadcasting house is responsible for the identified breaches, the Commission may instead of ordering for the suspension or revocation of the broadcaster’s operations, direct the licensee to suspend or take other disciplinary actions against the errant individual journalist.
This position was confirmed by Hon. Justice Benjamin Kabiito in the case of Kalundi Robert Serumaga and Godfrey Ssebagala v Broadcasting Council and Attorney General Misc. Cause No. 221 of 2009. (A copy of the judgement is annexed hereto)
The unfortunate coverage from the 29th April 2019 substantiates the Commission’s assertion that it is critical that all broadcasters employ qualified staff (as envisaged under the Uganda Communications Act and the Press and Journalists Act). This requirement is crucial because there are several standards applicable to various categories of content that have to be borne in mind by such journalists and producers during the course of their work.
The duty borne by a producer/journalist/editor cannot be discharged successfully by individuals that do not have the stipulated training/qualifications and experience.
All broadcasters are therefore called upon to ensure compliance with all laws, most especially the requirements under the Press and Journalists Act and the Uganda Communications Act before the time comes for their current licenses to be renewed. This will not only ease compliance but also boost professionalism and accountability amongst all the players in the media ecosystem.
All stakeholders are called upon to work with the Commission in ensuring that our media is protected from unprofessional conduct by a few unethical characters who are exposing our country to unpalatable content.