Uganda Communications Commission-UCC has asked Google LLC to block up to 14 YouTube channels accused of broadcasting messages that they say are likely to compromise national security and incite violence.
The listed channels include Ghetto TV, KKTV, Bobi Wine 2021, JB Muwonge 2, Namungo Media, Ekyooto TV, Map Mediya TV, Uganda Empya, Busesa Media Updates, Uganda News Updates, Uganda Yaffe, Trending Channel UG, Lumbuye Fred and TMO online.
In a December 9th, 2020 letter to the Chief Executive Officer Google Inc, an American international company specializing in Internet services and products, UCC says the listed YouTube channels violate Ugandan laws. According to the letter, the continued broadcast by the channels might cause economic sabotage and compromise Uganda’s national security.
UCC claims that most of the named channels were used to mobilize riots that resulted into the loss of several lives in Uganda. UCC also accuses the YouTube channels of reporting news in a sensational, unbalanced, unprofessional and sensational manner.
The broadcasts contain gruesome pictures including pictures of dead bodies, wounded victims of attacks and accidents, in a manner likely to cause public anxiety. Glorifies lawlessness and undermines public interest, confidence in the law and its enforcement in Uganda,” the letter reads.
The telecom regulator also argues that in addition to operating without broadcasting licenses in violation of UCC Act, the channels don’t meet the minimum broadcasting standards as they use offensive language and have no program rating. Abdul Salam Waiswa, the head of Legal and Compliance at UCC, once the channels register they will not be stopped from operating.
“We are also in touch with Facebook. What these people are doing in Uganda, have to do it after they have got authorization. Broadcasting and the media is a critical industry, and is regulated everywhere,” Waiswa said.
He, however, couldn’t explain whether or not the channels would still be allowed to publish the same content like covering the campaign rallies of Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, the National Unity Platform-NUP presidential candidate once they fully register. He says they are in touch with Google and Facebook to ensure that the sites are blocked until they register.
Juliet Nanfuka, a Digital Media Expert with Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa (CIPESA-Uganda), says independent content producers of legitimate information and different narratives need not to be threatened by such actions because this can hamper legitimate opinions. She says this can also introduce a culture of self-censorship and affect the expansion of the media avenues.
“It goes against what the internet is supposed to be, which is an open, free platform. Granted there are issues around disinformation but the decision is going to make some entities start self censoring, which is unfortunate coming into the lead to an election,” Nanfuka said.
Nanfuka says the key emerging questions are whether social media users should be treated as journalist or a broadcast house. She also questions why out of the hundreds of independent content producers, the government is targeting the listed channels. Google will undertake due diligence and require UCC to produce more evidence before any action can be taken on the said pages. This isn’t the first time; the independence of an online platform is being challenged.
In 2016, city lawyer Fred Muwema petitioned the High Court of Ireland to issue orders prohibiting Facebook Ireland Limited from publishing the Facebook page of Tom Okwalinga Voltaire alias TVO for alleged defamation and lost suit.