Queries as UCC directs Spark TV to suspend staff over Kato Lubwama fracas

Dr Peter Mwesige, ACME: ""Journalists should be asking these questions, not simply reproducing UCC pronouncements."

SCANDAL | Uganda Communication Commission’s directive that Spark Television suspends a presenter and producer of its programme, Koona, has raised questions about the ideals of minimum broadcasting standards, a peg the regulator is always quick to throw in the face of media managers.

UCC on Monday ordered that Spark TV suspends airing of the programme until the regulator is “satisfied that the station has instituted the necessary measures to ensure that the show meets the regulatory standards.”

It also directed that the presenter Miles Rwamiti and producer of the programme are suspended.

Sendo Cleaners

But Dr Peter G. Mwesige, the executive director of the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME), feels UCC could have gone over the top with the directive.

“It would have been enough, for starters, for UCC to write to the management of Spark TV asking for an explanation around the controversial broadcast — what happened and what did the TV station do about it?” Mwesige, who questioned if UCC has the powers to cause the suspension of content producers/journalists, said.

Angelo Izama, a media analyst, blogger and social justice activist, said minimum broadcasting standards is a broad term that is “used for everything that the regulator or whoever controls it” does not like.

He likened the UCC directive to that of Traffic Police suspending a drivers licence because a cow ran on the road forcing the person in the driving seat to swerve off the road and almost mess up a roadside business.

“Only here, even the co-driver is also forbidden from driving unless they can explain themselves. There is no way to predict the cow’s involvement,” he said.

The case

On Friday last week, Lubaga South MP Kato Lubwama, while appearing on Koona show, lost self-control and attempted to slap and beat up a fellow panelist, Andrew Bajjo.

MP Lubwama claims that Bajjo, a music promoter, had crossed the line by insulting him during the live broadcast in which the two were separated before they had exchanged blows.

UCC, in the statement that was no signed unlike most of the previous similar released, said the actions of Lubwama and Bajjo as well as Spark TV’s failure to control them, were contrary to the minimum broadcasting standards.

“Spark TV should immediately suspend the producer of Koona show and Miles Rwamiti, the presenter of the show, until after UCC is satisfied that the producer and the presenter have obtained the requisite skills to direct and present the show in strict compliance with the set standards,” the regulator said in a release Monday.

The regulator said Section 31(a) of Uganda Communications Act 2013, prohibits broadcast of any program or content that directly or indirectly promotes hatred or a culture of violence and likely to incite and/or glorify violent behaviour.

Efforts to get a comment from Geoffrey Mutabazi were futile but Crime24 understands that the UCC executive director “was not party to the directive” — according to sources — although his Twitter handle severally tweeted the statement and related issues on Monday.

“The letter is formulaic and follows UCC’s process whenever an incident like this happens,” said Izama, who was once forced to leave Andrew Mwenda Live show that he produced on KFM when it was deemed too critical of government.

“There are many issues that the broadcasting industry may have with their position to the primary issue of “minimum broadcasting standards” or even to the skill set producers may need to turn around this sort of incident.”

He argued that UCC’s directives often deprive the public in a democratic setting of taking full advantage of the right to dissent.

“If there are two sides to an issue, it is the right of those dissenting to cause as much anger and disaffection with the position of their opponent as is necessarily to affect the vote of the public,” he added.

Media must question UCC

UCC’s directive appears to follow orders from ICT and National Guidance minister Frank Tumwebaze, who at the weekend ordered the communications regulator to investigate the altercation incident on Spark TV.

The response from UCC from then on was almost straightforward, a textbook delivery from its many past directives to media organisations. It also appears from the statement that UCC made directives before seeking explanations from Spark TV as the broadcaster has been asked to submit one showing what happened before, during and after the programme.

And, although UCC acted within it’s mandate, Dr Mwesige feels many Ugandans don’t really know the nature of the relationship between UCC and the media.

Mwesige, whose organisation, ACME, is committed to excellence in journalism and mass communication in Africa, challenged the media to start asking questions of UCC’s directives.

“The media have to pay more attention to the activities of UCC. For instance, what mechanism does it follow in response to alleged breaches of the minimum broadcasting standards? Has it got a disciplinary committee that hears complaints? Who determines the ‘interim’ punishment as investigations go on?” he said.

“Journalists should be asking these questions, not simply reproducing UCC pronouncements. Of course, this is not to justify what went on during that controversial broadcast. Rather it is to remind ourselves the media regulation should be transparent and accountable.”

Meanwhile, managers of Spark TV, a luganda station of NTV Uganda, were yesterday in frantic efforts to engage UCC to avert threats of suspension of broadcast licence, as well as to keep Rwamiti and his Koona producer engaged.

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