By Spy Reporter
Up country/regional Media owners under their umbrella organization Rural Broadcasters Association (RUBA) have petitioned the speaker of Parliament Rt.Hon.Rebecca Kadaga asking her to compel Gov’t to start paying for airtime services for their various programes, save for state of the Nation address and State Budget reading by the president.
The petition, dated May 18,2020 asks speaker of Parliament, under whose guidance all Gov’t Agencies’ appropriations/budgets are passed to compel them include media costs in their budgets so as to stop using UCC, the licensing body illegally to enforce non-existent laws in soliciting free airtime for various Gov’t Agencies programmes, while they receive money for publicity.
“Nowadays, it has become part of licensing conditions to run free Gov’t programmes from all Agencies,yet they get money for the same but force us through UCC to run their projects free. And yet the same Gov’t tomorrow sends to you URA and other Agencies to collect taxes. Same way Gov’t can’t enter into a supermarket and get free suits for its Ministers is the same way they should look at our private businesses (media houses). These are our private business, how can you take free goods worth shs400m from my business every year and you come back to collect taxes?” tough talking RUBA’s Chairman Julius Tumusiime wondered in an interview with this reporter via phone last night.
On 230 March 2014, the Government of Uganda through Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) unveiled ‘guidelines’ regarding electronic media that saw all licensed radio and Television stations start broadcasting Gov’t programmes for free.
Media owners contend that this was majorly on goodwill, although UCC has now turned it to be a licensing condition.
The idea was initiated by Hon. Rose Mary Namayanja, then Minister of Information Communication, Technology & Notional Guidance (MiCT & NG). Her request was for one hour talk show airtime mainly to disseminate Gov’t crucial programmes, National events like Budget speeches, State of the Nation Address and other important national days, but Gov’t has since taken it for granted that any time they should get free airtime and as much as they want.
“Now just imagine, President Museveni has had 15 addresses free and his airtime is unlimited! For as long as he wants to speak, all private media are compelled to cover him, this is not correct, that should be for the National broadcaster (UBC), that’s why UBC gets budget from the state,to run state programmes unlimited. Private media houses cancel clients’ ad schedule to cover president for three hours, the client runs away and you’re out business, Gov’t won’t care,” another member on condition of anonymity added.
This website has independently understood from some CEOs in town (names withheld on request) that their media houses in central Business District (CBD) lose up to shs5 billion annually in free airtime to Gov’t compared to their struggling counterparts upcountry who have to forfeit over shs400m giving Gov’t freebies.
RUBA has a regional membership representation from West Nile, Acholi, Lango,Teso, Bugisu, Sebei, Bukedi, Busoga, Central Buganda, Bunyoro, Tooro, Ankole, Kigezi and Karamoja.
Via a WhatsApp chat with this reporter, UCC’s public Relations manager, which is media’s regulatory body confirmed that it started as a goodwill but the good will had to be ‘backed up’ so it could legally stand for a good taste of time.
“Schedule 6 of the Uganda Communications Act of 2013 on the Conditions of a license, “It is a condition of every licence issued under this Act that the licensee shall— (b) in the case of a broadcaster, allocate time for the coverage of national events and functions. And under the same schedule , A licence issued under this Act may include the following conditions—and any other conditions as the Commission may consider appropriate or expedient,” he quoted.
He added thus; “There was goodwill on the subject matter which I think is good to sustainable, in keeping with good stakeholder relations. However, the law empowers the Commission to make any such inclusion to the license terms and conditions as envisaged in Schedule 6 of the Uganda Communications Act. In other words, there is goodwill and the implementation is backed by law,” he said.