The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) met the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC) on Monday 9th November 2020 to follow-up on the implementation of its recommendations in the recently released Human Rights Advisory on the use and access to different media platforms during the ongoing General ‘Scientific’ Election in Uganda.
The Acting Chairperson Dr. Katebalirwe Ammoti Wa Irumba, Commissioner Dr. Patricia Achan– Okiria and Directors; Ms. Ruth Ssekindi of Monitoring and Investigations (M&I) and Ms. Ida Nakiganda of Complaints, Investigation and Legal Services (CILS) met the team from the Uganda Communications Commission, led by the Acting Executive Director Eng. Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo at their offices in Bugolobi. The others on the UCC team included Abdulsalam Waiswa and Susan M Atengo Wegoye from the Directorate of Legal Affairs and the Director Industry Affairs and Content Development respectively.
Speaking to the press after the meeting held in the UCC Boardroom, the two institutions highlighted the salient issues that occasioned the engagement. “We at UHRC, wrote requesting for this meeting. We are grateful that UCC readily accepted and warmly welcomed us. Earlier this year, we wrote a Human Rights Advisory to the Electoral Commission (EC) on the conduct of the general ‘scientific’ elections and we recently met them. We realized that there are specific human rights issues contained in the Advisory pertaining to the conduct of the upcoming general elections which fall squarely within the mandate of UCC, which have ably discussed with them today,” Dr. Katebalirwe told the media. He commended efforts by UCC as the regulator to ensure the protection and promotion of the people’s right to access information, not only in the election period but in this challenging period of COVID-19 pandemic.
Welcoming the team from Uganda Human Rights Commission, the Acting Executive Director of UCC commended them for raising pertinent human rights concerns which included the worrying trend of laxity being exhibited by politicians and the general public in observing the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) issued by the Ministry of Health to stem the spread of COVID 19 and the need for the media to keep sending correct and pertinent messages.
“We have discussed the various interventions being done by UCC in consultation with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB),” she emphasised. She said the other critical issue discussed was the challenge of access to media services particularly from privately owned media organizations by political contestants.
“We have discussed the right to access information and the right of anyone disadvantaged to lodge a complaint with UCC. We noted that any candidate has a right to access services of a privately owned media house provided one is willing to pay for airtime and adequate notice is given to the media house. At UCC we emphasize that the license we issue is not personal to holder and is therefore a public good; to the extent that all politicians who are proprietors of media houses are obligated to give platform to their opponents,” Eng. Sewankambo stated. She said UCC has directed media houses not to price-discriminate among contestants.
There was also the issue of open broadcasts (Bizindalo) where people hire cars to drive through community settings or stage stationery megaphones to broadcast information. The ED said the UCC have already engaged National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) and the Electoral Commission to come up with guidelines that will be followed in the use of open broadcasts during the scientific elections.
Other issues discussed by both teams were; the cost of internet and telephone usage especially Over the Top (OTT) tax and the need to have this cost reviewed during this election period; the need for inclusion of People with Disabilities in the ongoing scientific elections, especially persons with visual impairments and stepping up the policy of mainstreaming of women in decision-making processes. The use of internet and other modern forms of communication channels; the adverse practice of misinformation, disinformation, fake news and the dangers they pose to the general public, were also discussed and measures to mitigate their impact on the quality of the general elections were proposed.
Among the main concerns raised by the journalists present was the allegation of police brutality that seemed to be targeting journalists covering opposition politicians. Responding to the concerns by journalists, Dr. Katebalirwe pointed out that while the UHRC does not condone brutality against anybody and particularly against journalists, it is also cognizant of the fact that acts of brutality leading to human rights violations are not policies of the Uganda Police Force but acts of a few rogue individuals. He called on journalists to also appreciate the mandate of the police to keep law and to endeavour to be law abiding citizens because no one is above the law. He also reminded journalists of the heightened risks they may face while doing their work during the ongoing heated election period and the critical need for journalists to embed themselves carefully.
The two organizations agreed to hold joint advocacy, media and civic education campaigns and appointed focal point persons on either side to carry the partnership forward. Director Ruth Ssekindi was appointed the Focal point person for UHRC while Mr. Ibrahim Bossa, the Director of Communications at the UCC and Mr. Waiswa would represent the UCC side as focal point persons.