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Uganda: Media Law Passed

(Sept. 12, 2012) Uganda’s Parliament recently passed a new media law, the Uganda Communications Act 2012, and created a “contents committee” to review complaints submitted about the contents of various media, including broadcasting, cinema, telecommunications, postal services, and video libraries . The committee will have a chair and four members, all appointed for terms of three years. (Sheila Naturinda & Mercy Nalungo, Ugandan Parliament Passes New Media Regulatory Law, DAILY MONITOR ONLINE (Sept. 7, 2012), World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201209071477.1_e35b001c3ac04cff.)

Under the new legislation, media producers might be able to avoid being held accountable for improper content, because the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) would have to consider the possibility of the media source being “hijacked” or other kinds of interference taking place. When complaints are filed with the contents committee, the media business will not be instantly closed down; the committee will investigate the complaint instead. (Id.) The UCC is established under the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology. (Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), Ministry website (last visited Sept. 12, 2012).)

The new law is somewhat controversial. Uganda’s Attorney-General, Fred Ruhindi, objected to the document, asserting that media producers should always be considered responsible when mistakes are made in broadcasting. (Naturinda & Nalungo, supra.)

Background on the Bill

The legislation had been introduced as the Communications Regulatory Authority Bill. (Details for “Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority Bill 2012”, African Centre for Media Excellence website (Apr. 3, 2012).) The bill was designed to consolidate provisions of the previous Uganda Communications Act and the Electronic Media Act and to combine the UCC and the Broadcasting Council into one body, the Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority. (Id.; Uganda Communications Act 2000, Uganda Legal Information Institute website (ULII) (last updated Jan. 29, 2012); Electronic Media Act 1996, ULII (last updated Jan. 26, 2012).)

While the nongovernmental organization Article 19 praised some aspects of the bill, it raised concerns that the regulatory authority for media would lack sufficient independence from the government. (Uganda: Communications Regulatory Bill, Article 19 website (Apr. 18, 2012).) Article 19 describes itself as working so that “people everywhere can express themselves freely, access information and enjoy freedom of the press.” (Mission, Article 19 website (2012).)

In a report with a detailed evaluation of the bill, Article 19 mentioned a number of general principles the legislation should have followed and also made specific recommendations. It stated, for example, that rules “requiring broadcasters to respect ‘public morality’ and ‘ethical broadcasting standards,’ are too vague and should be deleted” from the bill. (Article 19, UGANDA: COMMUNICATIONS REGULATORY BILL 2012: LEGAL ANALYSIS (Mar. 2012).) Article 19’s report referred to the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (The Declaration), which was adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights in October 2002. The Declaration states that “[a]ny public authority that exercises powers in the areas of broadcast or telecommunications regulation should be independent and adequately protected against interference, particularly of a political or economic nature.” (Id.; The Declaration, art. 7, REFWORLD (Oct. 22, 2002).)