Govt drafts new media Bill

Wednesday March 14 2012

By Yasiin Mugerwa

The government has drafted a new Bill aimed at regulating broadcasters and telecommunication service providers in the country.

The new Bill titled: “The Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority Bill, 2012” further tightens licence procedures for radio and television and prohibits any broadcasting which infringes upon the privacy of any individual or which contains false information.

New laws
The Bill, a copy Daily Monitor has seen, seeks among others, to consolidate the laws regulating communications in the country into one single body— the Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority.

The Authority, under the leadership of the Minister in-charge of Information and Communications Technology, reserves the right to modify the licences at will, including limiting the area of reach. A person aggrieved by a decision of the Authority may appeal to the minister.

“The Authority may suspend or revoke a licence issued under (the proposed legislation) in case there is serious and repeated breach of the licence conditions; any fraud or international misrepresentation by the operator applying for a licence; where the operator is engaged in or is supporting activities amounting to treasonable offence under the Penal Code Act or where the operator has ceases to be an eligible person,” the Bill reads in part.

Junior Information and Communications Technology Minister Nyombi Thembo tried to table the Bill but was blocked due to the absence of the certificate of financial implication.

If approved by Parliament, the authority headed by a director general, will become the official regulator of Uganda’s communications, broadcasting and postal services sector.

The Bill is expected to dissolve Uganda Communications Commission and merge Electronic Media Act and the Broadcasting Council.

Section 33 of the draft Bill makes it compulsory for every person with a television set to register it with the Authority.

Under the provision for licensing of TVs, a person who contravenes this section commits an offence and is liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding two and half currency points (Shs50,000) or imprisonment of not less than one month or both.

A person licensed by the Authority to install or operate a television station, radio station or communications apparatus shall, within 14 days after obtaining the licence, register the station or apparatus with the Media Council established under the Press and Journalist Act.

Other legislations
This is not the only legislation seen to curtail media freedoms in the country. The newspapers have not been spared either. Cabinet is also fine-tuning the Press and Journalist (Amendment) Bill, 2010, which contains several provisions that would further erode press freedom and free expression in Uganda.

For instance, the proposal to expand the powers of the Media Council to include registering and licensing newspapers (on annual basis) has been criticised as uncalled for.

There is also a proposal to change the composition of the Media Council and have the minister of information appointing six of the 12 members without consultation.