UCC cracks whip on errant media service providers

Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) executive director Nyombi Thembo. PHOTO/HANDOUT 

What you need to know:

  • The development follows widespread allegations of extortion, malice, and defamation by these media outlets.

The government has launched a countrywide clampdown on illegal and unethical media service providers following widespread allegations of extortion, malice, and defamation.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the government’s agency in charge of licensing, monitoring, and regulating communications across the country, announced the crackdown through a statement yesterday.

“The Commission has commenced a nationwide crackdown against unprofessional and illegal providers of media services in Uganda,” the statement signed by Mr Nyombi Thembo, the commission’s executive director, reads, in part.

Mr Nyombi said the commission continues to receive complaints from concerned members of the public against such publishers.

Some of the allegations suggest that some broadcasters, especially providers of online media services such as bloggers, online publishers, and online TV providers, often use their online media platforms or outfits to deliberately publish defamatory content against others, with a view of extorting money from them.

“It is alleged that such unscrupulous providers of online content often fabricate damaging stories about their victims to force them into negotiations for payment before the defamatory stories are corrected or deleted.”

“Publication and/or broadcasting of content that contravenes the broadcasting standards enshrined in the Act and the regulations, including fabricated and/or malicious stories, is prohibited for not only being unprofessional but also illegal,” he said.

He added that broadcasters of prohibited content may be liable to a range of regulatory sanctions, including suspension or revocation of their licences, as well as criminal prosecution for a myriad of criminal offences, including publication of prohibited content, criminal libel, and malicious information, among others.

“The public is encouraged to report to the Commission any providers of broadcasting services that attempt to extort and/or otherwise demand payment before any defamatory stories are corrected or otherwise deleted from the media platforms,” he said.

Asked whether some media outlets have been closed and whether some culprits have been apprehended since the crackdown was announced, Mr Abudu Waiswa Sallam, UCC’s head of legal affairs, declined to comment on the matter. 

However, according to UCC, all persons who are engaged in the provision of broadcasting services, including online media outlets such as online television, online radios, and online newspapers, among others, are required to uphold the minimum broadcasting standards and the code of ethics for journalists.

In an interview yesterday, Dr Innocent Nahabwe, the chairperson of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), told the Monitor that the crackdown was overdue.

“UCC is right and justified. As NAB, we do not condone these wrongdoings because it is blackmail. It is a shortcut through which people can extort money from the right-thinking members of society,” he said.

“These days, with what technology can do using AI (Artificial Intelligence), it is very easy for somebody to make you do something that you have never done,” he said.

However, Dr Nahabwe expressed concern that the crackdown may not yield the desired fruits since the perpetrators are not registered and that it could be used as a tool to suppress media freedom as the election period draws closer.

“Most of these media outlets are faceless; they are not registered with UCC, and they are not even licensed. People sit in America and blog, so how will you arrest them? If someone operates in Turkey, how do you implement this?” he wondered.