UCC issues deadline for all online media to register or face closure

UCC sets deadline for all online media to register or risk closure
George William Nyombi Thembo, the UCC Executive Director.

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has issued a two-month deadline for operators of online media channels to register or face closure.

This mandate includes “online TVs,” “online publications,” “online radios,” and other internet and app-based channels.

According to the UCC, there are over 200 such channels in the country, but only 35 are currently licensed to operate, despite the registration fee being just 100,000 shillings.

These services fall under the category of online data communications services. For online content service providers, such as those offering subscription viewer services, only three have registered so far, as noted by Abudu Sallam Waiswa, Head of Legal Affairs at UCC.

“We have only 35 online publishers and 3 online TV licensed by UCC; the rest are operating illegally so time is now to put your houses right,” Dr. Waiswa revealed.

Waiswa explained this during a dialogue between UCC and online media practitioners aimed at improving working relationships.

He highlighted that the registration requirements have been simplified to encourage more online media companies to comply with regulations. The annual license fee for online communications service providers is 100,000 shillings, while online content providers pay $8,100 (approximately 30 million shillings).

Waiswa also emphasized that proprietors must meet all government requirements, including obtaining a company registration certificate, a Tax Identification Number (TIN), and fulfilling employee regulations such as providing contract letters and meeting National Social Security Fund (NSSF) obligations before UCC would issue a one year operational license.

He urged owners and managers to regularize their channels through registration to avoid potential legal consequences, including closure.

Online data communication service providers engaging with the UCC on May 27th, 2024.

“Ignorance of the law is no defence, now that we called you to know, then we shall deal with an informed category of people during your operations” Waiswa told the gathering.

Following concerns about the tight deadline, which includes meeting various requirements from different state agencies, the media practitioners and UCC agreed on a two-month period (up to 30th, June 2024) to complete the process.

Simon Muyanga lutaya whose video on poor payment of journalists went viral recently insisted that UCC should emphasize the issue of media operators and owners to sign contracts for scribes even on a minimum wage as agreed by the media house.

George William Nyombi Thembo, the UCC Executive Director, stressed the importance of professionalizing the media industry, which would enable a self-regulation mechanism.

“We realised that the next generation and the current trend of technological advancement have shifted the media to online publishing, reading, and TV watching, therefore we felt that it would be of great importance to engage the online publishers so that they do a professional work,” Nyombi  Tembo said.

He added that most of the online newspapers publish stories of hate, unbalanced, unprofessional contents yet they have a huge following since it is the trend of readership now.

However, he revealed that UCC has no powers on TikTokers and YouTubers because they do not have the mandate to incense them but such people there are other constitutional laws that get them like the Computer Misuse Act and so fourth.

“Some people are paid money to write, talk and publish negative content online and by the time we realise as UCC, you find such websites are not licensed,” Nyombi pointed out.

He stated that the dialogue aimed to find a way forward to enhance professionalism in the media, ensuring the protection of all, including vulnerable groups, from potentially harmful media practices.

Meanwhile, online publishers requested that the UCC extend the registration period to allow unlicensed operators more time to organize their documents and register. They also asked for the operational license duration to be increased from one year to five years.

Enhancing compliance and quality in online media: UCC’s strategic engagement

“This morning (May 27, 2024) marked the initiation of an important engagement between the UCC and various online data communication service providers. This diverse group includes online radio, newspaper service providers, bloggers, podcast publishers, hosts of regular online talk shows, and providers of audio over IP services (AoIP).

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UCC Executive Director, Hon. Nyombi Tembo.

The primary objectives of this workshop are as follows:

  1. Raising Awareness: Shedding light on the legal framework governing the communication sector to ensure compliance and foster a cooperative relationship among all stakeholders.
  2. Encouraging Compliance: Urging unlicensed entities to take the necessary steps to regularize their operations in accordance with the law.
  3. Ensuring Quality Content: Emphasizing the significance of publishing high-quality content, as outlined in the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations of 2019.
  4. Promoting Professional Journalism: Encouraging adherence to professional journalism standards, including accuracy in reporting, objectivity, balance, distinction between facts and opinions, and appropriate handling of sensitive or gruesome content. Neutrality and non-discrimination, particularly in political reporting, are paramount, alongside maintaining objectivity throughout programming.
  5. Taking Corrective Action: Addressing mistakes promptly and transparently, and rectifying content that falls below expected standards.

Additionally, I cautioned these providers against being used for blackmail and clickbait practices. Let’s collaborate earnestly to fortify the regulatory framework and advance this sector.

As we reflect on “the tragedy of the commons,” it underscores the importance of responsible use of shared resources. Let’s ensure the responsible utilization of our digital platforms,” stated George William Nyombi Thembo, the UCC Executive Director.