Ugandan broadcasters threaten to boycott state events
Broadcasters in Uganda under their umbrella National Association of Broadcasters (NAB have threatened to boycott covering all government events over a controversial government decision not to advertise with private media companies.
In a budget execution circular for the financial year 2023/24 issued to accounting officers by the Permanent Secretary and Secretary to the Treasury (PSST Mr Ramathan Ggoobi on July 10, 2021, a directive was issued that all government advertising must be through the Uganda Broadcasting Cooperation.
“Any accounting officer who deviates from this will be sanctioned including dismissal. Print media advertising should be done through the New Vision newspaper.I therefore urge all accounting officers to strictly adhere to the directive,” Ggoobi wrote.
The letter sent shockwaves through the private media fraternity whose biggest advertiser over the years has been the government.
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Mr Joseph Beyanga, the NAB secretary general in a letter to the PSST contested the decision noting that it contravenes the national strategy for private sector development which set out a comprehensive scheme for coordinating and development of the private sector in Uganda.
Beyanga also noted that the new directive breaches several other laws like the 1995 constitution, the public procurement and disposal of Assets law, the Uganda communications Act, and the national competition policy which all speak to the government’s reinforcement strategy for the private sector led economy.
“Our protest as an industry is that the implementation of the said directive in your circular will not only contravene the 1995 constitution of the republic of Uganda but also set a precedent that goes against government’s own policy that champions a private sector-led economy,” Beyanga said.
He added that in light of the above, the association was left with no option and will not be obliged to cover any government activity until the said directive is reversed.
Analysts suggest that the government’s move could be intended to compromise critical reporting on government as well as its officials and could end employment for several journalists in private media houses.
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Robert Ssempala, the National Coordinator of rights group the Human Rights Network for Journalists said that this would be a retrogression as regards a liberal economy that in turn liberalised the media for the government to create a monopoly on government resources.
He added that the move will also stagnate the development of the country’s media industry, affect quality journalism and that the government will largely be policing itself.
“All media houses should go to court and challenge such a directive. It is wrong at conception, and it will be wrong at both presentation and execution,” he said.
The 2020 global press freedom index released by the reporters without borders indicates that Uganda’s press freedom index continued to fall with the country dropping to 132 out of a total of 180 countries.