The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) treaded a fine line on Tuesday when it was announced that they had, effectively, banned a private citizen from appearing on the national airwaves.
Mr Tamale Mirundi, admittedly an unapologetic rabble-rouser, has been deemed to be a public nuisance. The feeling is that the former presidential spokesman has become repeatedly abusive and should no longer be heard from. As a result, any television station or radio which persists in giving him airplay could have its licence revoked. There were no specifics, just general declarations after the purported fact.
Yes, Mr Mirundi can be very annoying. And it is also true that there are certain sections of this country’s electoral laws under which it is an offence to use insulting, sectarian, false and ultimately inflammatory language during campaign season. The purpose should be self-evident for all decent folks. But is banning the first and only remedy available? We think not, especially since the minimum broadcasting standards do not seem to define what exactly amounts to an abuse, etc.
But the larger danger may already be at play in our midst. There are persons in power, acting directly or through State institutions, who have taken unilateral measures, which violate Ugandans’ constitutional rights to freedom of speech under the questionable guise of stopping what they presume to be disparaging commentary.
There are Ugandans who have been illegally stopped from appearing on air just because of their views about how the NRM leadership exercises the power entrusted upon them by citizens. It is for this reason that there is cause for trepidation. How does UCC determine what is abusive or not? And to whom can one appeal a ‘banning’.
This is probably why Article 43 was written into our Constitution. It says no prejudice will be brought against anyone’s enjoyment of their universal fundamental rights and freedoms or the public interest beyond what is acceptable and demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society, or what is provided for in the Constitution.
Wiser heads had long determined that the public interest is better served when there is more latitude for those who have to say something for them to say it. That same public interest should be adequately protected by available statutes.
Politics lends itself to heated discussion and because of that, sometimes, some people have difficulty restraining themselves and end up spouting inelegant words.
There has to be a way through which irresponsible citizens can be called to order other than shutting them up.
The issue: Mirundi ban.
Our view: some people have difficulty restraining themselves and end up spouting inelegant words There has to be a way through which irresponsible citizens can be called to order other than shutting them up.