KAMPALA — Communications sector watchdog, the Uganda Commissions Commission (UCC) has met with the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) to discuss the issues reported by candidates regarding unequal access to media among others challenges ahead of 2021 scientific elections.
The high-level meeting held on request by UHRC was also part of the follow-up on the implementation of recommendations by the human rights defenders in a recent Human Rights Advisory on the use and access to different media platforms during the ongoing General ‘Scientific’ Elections.
Speaking to reporters after the closed door meeting, acting UCC Executive Director Eng. Irene Kaggwa Sewankambo said the two institutions highlighted the salient issues that occasioned the engagement.
“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.
“We have discussed the various interventions being done by UCC in consultation with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB),” she emphasised.
The ED said the other critical issue discussed was the challenge of access to media services particularly from privately owned media organizations by political contestants.
On the issue of open oudio 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.
On his side, UHRC acting Chairperson, Dr. Amooti Katebalirwa Wa Irumba said UHRC 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.
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 meeting was attended by UCC acting ED. Eng Ssewankambo
Legal Chief Abdulsalam Waiswa and Susan M Atengo Wegoye from the Directorate of Legal Affairs and the Director Industry Affairs and Content Development respectively.
UHRC was represented by 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).
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.