UCC Act compromises further the regulator’s independence

Passed amendment to UCC Act narrows space for freedom of expression both online and offline and compromises further the regulator’s independence, says the Unwanted Witness

Kampala, 10th/04/2017; Unwanted Witness Uganda is dismayed by the recent move by parliament to amend section 93 (1) of the Uganda Communications Amendment Bill, 2016, giving powers to the minister of Information and ICT to pass regulations governing the communication industry in the country without seeking for parliament’s approval.

Parliament passed the UCC amendment bill on 6th April 2017. Originally section 93 (1) of the UCC Act required parliamentary approval of the regulations made by the minister.

This amendment once assented to by the president means that the seating Information minister has the powers to take any actions against an Internet service provider, Netizen, blogger, a media house and the practitioners, which is an open window for misuse. These unlimited powers do not only further threaten the independence of Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) but also citizens’ right to freedom of expression, opinion, assembly and press freedom in the country will be threatened.

According to international human rights law, bodies with regulatory powers in relation to the media should be protected against interference from or control by government or any ministry. Principle VII (1) of the Declaration of Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa states that; any 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.

“It is disastrous to see members of parliament obligating their mandate to a single individual who is also in charge of appointing majority of the board members to the commission,” argued Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Chief Executive Officer, the Unwanted Witness-Uganda.

The Unwanted Witness biggest concern is the previous experience where Ugandans have witnessed a clampdown on private media houses with independent minds have arbitrarily and excessively been down; individual journalists have been fired under duress; and some private media houses have been denied operating licenses while others have had their operating licenses revoked.  Such a trend has also been experienced by the cyber space where Internet has been closed down on orders.

Although by law the minister of information is mandated to institute a tribunal to which members of the public can seek redress in case the minister misuses the powers, to date this has not been set up on grounds of lack of funds.

We call upon the president of the republic of Uganda Yoweri Museveni not to assent to the bill but rather send it back to Parliament for a review because it has grave chilling effects on the enjoyment of the citizens’ right to freedom of expression.