Media houses reject UCC directive to suspend staff

Friday May 03 2019
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A group of journalists and civil society activists demonstrate in Kampala on Friday, to demand the resignation of Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, the executive director of Uganda Communications Commission. This was during the celebrations to mark the World Press Freedom Day in Kampala. PHOTO BY KELVIN ATUHAIRE

Media managers and owners who subscribe to the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) have asked the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) to withdraw its order to media houses to suspend their staff over alleged breach of minimum broadcasting standards.

In a Thursday statement, NAB’s chairman, Mr Kin Kariisa stated that the current strong directives on Ugandan media by UCC, undermines the quality of journalism and creates an environment of fear and threats.

“NAB and its members believe that the media plays a key role in shaping a healthy democracy by exposing loopholes in the democratic system which ultimately helps government to fill them and making the system more accountable, responsive and  citizens- friendly,” Mr Kariisa said. 

Mr Kariisa said  that the abrupt order by the broadcasting regulator to suspend staff weakens standards and controls that exist in all media houses.

He said that such directives amplify the risk that led to UCC ‘s intervention in the first place and  also compromises the opportunity for dialogue between UCC and broadcasters based on past relationship .

On behalf of NAB, Mr Kariisa recommended that UCC rescinds the order pending an urgent meeting between the two parties.

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In an April 30th letter to NBS TV, BBS TV, NTV, Bukedde TV, Kingdom TV and Salt TV  Akaboozi radio, Beat FM, Capital FM, Pearl FM, Sapientia FM and Radio Simba;  UCC’s executive director, Mr  George Mutabazi threatened them with sanctions if they do not suspend their staff accused of airing or approving undesirable broadcast content.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations which include; Freedom of Expression Hub, Chapter Four Uganda and The Legal Aid Service Providers Network (LASPNET)  have condemned Mr Mutabazi of using overly excessive powers beyond his mandate to regulate the media and demanded  for immediate withdraw of  his orders to all affected media houses.

“As Uganda joins the world to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom day, it is very concerning that UCC is taking further steps to increase its grip on the media. These developments came on the backdrop of a spate of threats from government officials and errant switch offs of radio stations upcountry for hosting opposition leaders,” the CSO’s stated in a joint statement.

They said that it is illegitimate for the government or the regulators to unnecessarily interfere or to prescribe how broadcasters should report news.

The activists say UCC actions continue to cause a chilling effect amongst many broadcasters who for fear of losing their licenses, bow to the pressures of unfairly terminating programmes or their employees.

Mr Charles Bichachi, the Public Editor at Nation Media Group Uganda, said that the idea of suspending journalists by UCC is autocratic because there are avenues the regulator could have explored by engaging  the particular media houses.

 “If that happened, I am sure these media houses would look into the issues being raised and an appropriate remedy would be found. Issuing directives certainly undermines media freedoms and the work of journalists which they do under the very difficult circumstances,” he said.

snakirigya@ug.nationmedia.com

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