The Uganda Communications Bill 2012 was passed into law on Wednesday, effectively merging the Broadcasting Council (BC) and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) into one bodyâ€” Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority.
The Uganda Communications Bill 2012 was passed into law on Wednesday, effectively merging the Broadcasting Council (BC) and the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) into one body— Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority.
The new law will regulate broadcasting, telecommunication and postal service providers through the new Regulatory Authority.
The bill, which first came to parliament in March as the Uganda Communications Regulatory Authority Bill 2012, will now be known as the Uganda Communications Act 2012. Members of Parliament say retaining the name UCC will save on the Commission’s cost of rebranding. Besides, UCC is a well known international brand which already caters for both communication and broadcasting.
The Act now consolidates and harmonizes the Uganda Communications (UCC) Act 1997 and Electronic Media Act 2000.
The act creates a content committee consisting of a chairperson and four other members appointed by the minister on the recommendation of the board. The tenure of the committee shall be one term of three years and shall be eligible for reappointment for one more term. The functions of the committee include advising and making recommendations to the board on content issues and handling complaints from operators and consumers. The committee will also promote public awareness on content regulation of publication made by means of electronic media as well as oversee the minimum broadcasting standards.
Producers have narrowly escaped being held personally liable for content produced under the new law. Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Jacob Oulanyah, who chaired the committee stage of the whole House noted that it was unnecessary because the intended law regulates the broadcasters and not producers.
Oulanyah noted that each media house has its own style of appointing and disqualifying the producer. But the Deputy Attorney General Fred Ruhindi objected to the proposal saying producers should be held liable for any mistakes committed.
The ICT committee had attempted to state that the disqualification of a producer shall be in line with the guidelines of the media council. The producers now need to ensure that what is broadcast is not contrary to public morality. They are also required to retain a record of all that is broadcast for not less than 30 days, just as stated in the Electronic Media Act.
The Act also stipulates 60 days within which the Commission shall grant an operation license from the date of application. Where the commission refuses to grant a license the law requires that it provides a written explanation to the applicant giving reasons for refusal.
Under the new law, a person who installs and operates a television station, radio or any related broadcasting apparatus without a license issued commits an offence and is liable for a fine not exceeding 1.9 million shillings or imprisonment not exceeding four years or both.
In April this year, media owners under the National Association of Broadcasters-NAB criticized the Bill and demanded for major changes before passing it into law. NAB chairperson Capt Francis Babu then observed that the telecommunication and broadcast sectors were different and needed to be separated.
The Act now awaits presidential assent within one month.