UCC has issued a notice to “online data communication and broadcast service providers”. It calls upon them to register in order to get authorization to operate.
“All online data communication service providers including online publishers, on-line [sic] news platforms, online radio and television operators are therefore [sic], advised to apply and obtain authorization from the commision with immediate effect,” the notice reads.
Some think this is vaguely written because it doesn’t clarify exactly who it covers or should register. Though, the first group that comes to mind are Bloggers, Podcasters, YouTubers and Vloggers. One of the people that commented, said: “it appears this law’s interpretation is weak and subjective in terms of who it may apply to”.
But, when we contacted UCC’s head of PR Pamela Ankunda, she said that “the registration is for online publication service providers”. Adding that it applies to all online content creators apart from those whose “content differs from daily news submission”. Citing an example of researchers as a group it doesn’t cover.
UCC is the corporate body charged with regulating communication services in Uganda. This, according to Section 4 of the Uganda Communications Act of 2013, includes telecommunications, radio, television, broadcasting and postal and courier services”.
The authority has come under criticism on several occasions for being a tool used by the ruling government to gag media and press freedom. In 2016, during the general elections, UCC switched off access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp. The major online social and messaging platforms in Uganda.
— Richard Zulu (@richardzulu) March 7, 2018
It has also occasionally switched off radio stations as well as sent warning letters to radio and TV stations stopping them from covering or hosting key opposition-leaning political figures.
Uganda’s opposition enjoys the lead on most of the social platforms given it is made of the urban and semi-urban groups. Something that might raise questions about UCC’s interest in online publications.
Earlier this year, Godfrey Mutabaazi, the Executive Director of UCC told Uganda Radio Network that Uganda would have its own Facebook and Twitter. A move some thought was looking to censor online communication amongst citizens.
“That [launching local social networks] is one of the projects we are working on next year. There is an investor who is bringing our own social media platforms. Instead of Twitter, you’re going to have something local that you’re going to use,” Godfrey said.
UCC might succeed in registering the online publications. But, it is the regulation that might pause a challenge. Especially if the entire process is a knee-jerk reaction to the problem rather than a well thought out one.
“The commission shall, from the 2nd of April 2018, embark on enforcement activities against all non-compliant providers of on-line [sic] data communication services, and this may entail directing Internet Service Providers (ISP) to block access to such websites and/or streams,” the notice says.
Though, I wonder how this will be possible for other publishers who use platforms like Facebook, YouTube and other sites hosted outside Uganda. For example, at one point, the government had asked Facebook to close TVO’s account. But Facebook turned down the request.