KAMPALA – An intense and aggressive awareness campaign by the media is Uganda’s first line of attack or vanguard against the coronavirus pandemic. With no guaranteed medical cure so far, the biggest medicine for COVID19 is prevention through mass awareness. The media is a proven major weapon in creating repetitive messaging. Unfortunately, most media houses are on the verge of shutting down. Media houses are relaying government message free of charge. It is time for government to share the burden of relaying official messages with the media houses. Media houses need the government’s urgent financial support.
Here are four proposals:
1. Pay outstanding debts. Media houses are among the major creditors of the government. Government should pay domestic arrears owing to media houses immediately to enable them cope with the rising cost of running their businesses at a minimum of profit. The government owes media houses up to Shillings 13 billion accruing from as far back as 2018.
2. URA needs to waive taxes on media houses. Each media house can submit monitoring logs to prove the value each media house runs during the lockdown period. URA should also Zero rate VAT for media houses till 1st July 2020
3. UCC should defer, reduce or waive License fees. The same should apply to UBC carriage fees.
There are 306 radio stations and 39 TV stations in Uganda.
Radio stations pay an average of Shs17, 500,000 annual license fees and $1,300 monthly mast rental fees to UBC. TV stations pay an average of 92m to UCC for the annual license fees and 9.45m to Signet for the monthly hosting fees.
4. Government should pay cash for ads that media houses are running during the coronavirus. The government should buy space, airtime and reach-out on print, broadcast and online media respectively, to a tune of Shs15billion per month for the next 3 months. This can be managed jointly by the media owners association, with proper accountability backed by invoices and media schedules. The budget of Shs15 billion per month is guided by the space and airtime the media houses have been offering since the outbreak of the pandemic. The idea of billboards is ludicrous because most people are confined at home. Sharing information through markets can be done by relaying information through loudspeakers mounted on trucks.
The writer is CEO, Next Media Services and Chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)._