The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has come under fire following its plot to have all online content providers get authorization on the heels of digital campaigns building up to the 2021 general election.
UCC has since given all online content providers up to October 5th to register.
Mr. Ibrahim Bbossa, the head of PR says that after the ultimatum, they will move to enforce the law.
UCC Act 2013 gives the commission powers to impose a fine on a person who unlawfully possesses, installs, connects, or operates any communications equipment or apparatus, or unlawfully provides or performs any communications services.
It further gives UCC powers to confiscate any apparatus which is possessed, installed, connected, or operated unlawfully. Last year, the commission also said it would ask Internet Service Providers to block access to non-compliant websites.
Over the weekend, UCC blocked a local publication called ‘The New Times’, saying it wasn’t registered.
UCC advised all persons currently offering or planning to commence the provision of online data communication and broadcasting services to obtain authorization from UCC before providing such services to the public.
The services include blogs, online televisions, online radios, online newspapers, audio over IP (AoIP), Internet Protocol TV (IPTV), Video on Demand (VoD), Digital Audio radios and televisions, internet/web radio, and internet/web television among others.
“All persons engaged in the provision of the above services are accordingly advised to regularize their operations by obtaining the necessary authorization from UCC by 5th of October 2020” the notice continues.
The Commission first announced the move to register online service providers in 2018 and were required to pay 73,800 Shillings for an operating license. By August 2019, UCC said at least 40 online platforms had registered.
However, the move was opposed by many of the content providers and organizations that seek to promote the public’s online rights.
In June 2018, Unwanted Witness, a civil society organization that seeks to respond to the gap in effective communication using various online expression platforms, dragged UCC to court saying the move by the Commission would infringe on the freedom of Online Publishers and the freedom of speech and expression including freedom of the media as provided for under Article 29 of the 1995 Constitution. They say UCC has no mandate to register and license online service providers.
Dorothy Mukasa the Executive Director of Unwanted Witness says the case is still before the Constitutional Court for decision.
Mukasa says if UCC starts on enforcement, it will be carrying it out illegally. To Mukasa, UCC’s move is an extension of its efforts to cripple individual and media freedoms of expression.
She says online platforms offer space to the public to voice their views that could or may not pass on Radio and TV for fear of UCC.