UBC Monopoly Likely to Kill Private Media

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By Eliphaz Ssekabira

On Easter Sunday, my DST subscription expired and the only option was to watch Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) television.

A friend of mine who found me watching the UBC at 8pm news jokingly suggested to fundraise for the renewal. This reminded me of the 6th March directive by H.E President Museveni to compel Government ministries, departments and agencies to channel all Government advertisements to UBC. The Accounting Officers were put on notice that any form of defiance will result into dismissal.In the same communication to the Rt Hon Prime Minister Robinah Nabanja, the President pledged an annual 30 billion shillings to cushion the public broadcaster, waving penalties on the National Social Security Fund and Pay As You Earn noncompliance and the Government commitment to take over the UBC debt. When the President talks about UBC, he means two television stations- UBC and Star plus a network of eleven radio stations broadcasting in 22 local languages. The radios are; UBC Butebo, UBC Radio Uganda, UBC West, UBC Star, Totore-Nginajok (Karamoja), UBC West Nile, Magic, Mega, Voice of Bundibugyo, Ngeya and Buruli.

The President surprisingly pledges to handle the allegations of inefficiency at an appropriate time. The diagnosis of inefficiency at the public broadcaster should be the first step before the other proposed interventions are implemented. The issue of contention to the President’s directive is the re-introduction of monopoly in the broadcasting industry. In effect it means UBC is a single seller for a unique product in the market which is not the case. It is on record that the National Resistance Movement Government has greatly contributed to the change of the media landscape in Uganda.

The country boasts of over 218 approved radio stations, 71 televisions and hundreds of licensed online platforms, thanks to heavy investments by the proprietors. Since the Government is a big advertiser, these should be supported to have returns on their investments and also to repay loans to those who took bank financing. On top of paying annual trading, compliance, frequency and equipment type approval fees, private media employ thousands of Ugandans who pay taxes to the national coffers. Denial of Government advertisements is therefore counterproductive.

It is also on record that private media have supported Government programs like the Parish Development Model (PDM), Emyooga, and the fight against COVID-19 among others. It is also a requirement by the regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) for all the stations to provide free weekly airtime to Government moreover during prime time.

Government should reciprocate by continuing to advertise with the private media. In public procurement, value for money is an important aspect. If all Accounting Officers advertise only on UBC, will the messages and campaigns reach the desired or the targeted audiences? How is the rankings of all UBC platforms in national audience research and measurement?

The President should therefore address the issue of the alleged mismanagement and inefficiency at UBC as a matter of urgency. Even if modern equipment is procured and the funding improved, the efforts will go to waste if there are no safeguards to improve performance.

The writer is the Station Manager, Namirembe FM.

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