ARTICLE 19 is concerned by the recent directive issued by the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), banning live broadcasts which it views as inciting the public.
On 26 September 2017, the UCC announced that all media houses should cease live broadcasts that “are inciting the public, discriminating, stirring up hatred, promoting a culture of violence … and are likely to create public insecurity”. The directive follows the broadcast of fights in the Ugandan parliament related to debates on a change to the presidential age limit. The directive warned non-compliance could result in the use of Section 41 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, which empowers the Commission to suspend or revoke a licence where the operator has breached the minimum broadcasting guidelines as envisioned in Section 31.
The directive was issued the day after the arrest and detention of three journalists in Lira in the north of the country, who had been covering a protest against the age limit being raised. The issue has sparked several anti-government protests, and the ban effectively bans any live reporting on these also.
“This ban throttles the people’s right to information about their government, as protected under Article 41 of the Constitution, by preventing Ugandan citizens from hearing and watching live parliamentary sessions, especially at a time when a matter of public interest such as the presidential age limit is being discussed”, said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa.
Section 31 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013 as read with Schedule 4 of the Act, on which basis the ban has been issued, is overly vague in its provisions. Terms such as “culture of violence”, “ethnic prejudice”, or “public morality” have not been well defined in the act and are therefore overly ambiguous. Provisions around “public insecurity” are equally vague, and this ambiguity leaves the law open to abuse, as exemplified by this latest ban.
The government of Uganda has an obligation to respect the Constitution and its guarantees on freedom of information, as well as international standards to which the country has signed up. Laws regulating the media and affecting freedom of expression must therefore be sufficiently precise, and comply with internationally set standards on acceptable limitations of freedom of expression, i.e the three part test of legality, proportionality and necessity.
“At a time when there is such fierce internal debate on an issue, it is essential that the public is able to participate in that debate full, with access to relevant facts and reporting. The government appears to be trying to stifle that debate, and the media’s role in it”, added Maina.
ARTICLE 19 urges the UCC to rescind this latest directive and refrain from using the provisions of the Uganda Communications Act to restrict access to information and media freedom in this way. We urge the reform of the Act, to ensure it is in line with international standards on freedom of expression and information, and enables Ugandans to participate fully in political discussions.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
For more information, please contact Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa at [email protected] or call on +254 727 862230