Broadcasters call for scrapping of gov’t free airtime

Rural broadcast media owners and managers have appealed to Parliament to reign-in on the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to scrap the requirement of offering government programmes free airtime.

The Rural Broadcasters Association (RUBA) led by their Chairman, Julius Tumusiime petitioned Speaker Rebecca Kadaga on Tuesday, 14 July 2020. Tumusiime was accompanied by the Director, Time FM, Anthony Wanyoto and NBS Radio General Manager, David Lwanga.

On 23rd March 2014, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) issued guidelines to be followed by the electronic media which saw all licensed radio and television stations broadcasting government programmes for free.

According to the rural media owners, broadcasting governments programmes for free is a licensing condition and they are required to offer a one hour talk show in prime time to government for dissemination of its programmes, broadcast live national events and play jingles, announcements and DJ mentions promoting government programmes.

Julius Tumusiime, the owner of Bushenyi FM said that each station annually loses shs412.8 million in free government airtime. According to documents he presented to the Speaker, shs8 million is lost monthly on the one hour free talk show, shs14 million on adverts, shs2.4 million on announcements and shs10 million on DJ mentions.

“Majority of upcountry stations are no longer generating more than shs20 million a month as a result of this policy of free airtime to government. Costs of running a medium like radio adds up to shs40 million monthly catering for salaries, electricity, National Social Security Fund (NSSF) contributions, taxes, sales commission, welfare, promotions, marketing, generator fuel among others,” said Tumusiime.    

He added that the media is part of the essential services in the country and that they need money to continue offering the service.

“ Initially, all broadcasters identify time and allocated it to government as requested but currently, government Ministries, Departments and Agencies no longer budget for media airtime to disseminate programmes,” he added.

The Association requested that the government one hour free airtime be scrapped and allow radio and television stations to continue to air only national events like the budget speech and presidential addresses. They also want parliament to require Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to budget for media airtime across the country.

The Association boosts of a membership of 160 radio stations, four online news platforms and 10 televisions from West Nile, Acholi, Lango, Teso, Sebei, Bukedi, Busoga, Central, Bunyoro, Toro, Ankole, Kigezi and Karamoja regions.

Kadaga said that she would send the petition to Parliament’s Information, Communication and Technology (ICT) committee for scrutiny. She however tasked the Association leadership to submit to her office documents regarding to the conditions of licenses and others.

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