The Uganda Communications Commission [UCC] has issued new sponsorship and advertising guidelines, which in essence, will shrink steady streams of cash for broadcasters.
The guidelines, which came into force yesterday, October 1, put a tight leash on what can be and what can’t be advertised or sponsored on a television or radio station.
According to the guidelines, a radio or television station is only allowed 10 minutes of advertisement in a block hour. This flies in the face of radio and TV stations that normally run adverts half of the time allotted to a particular programme.
Justifying the guidelines, UCC wrote that editorial integrity has been under threat of sponsored programmes as advertisers/sponsors have assumed a greater influential role in the media where broadcasters have continued to change media output to suit their sponsors’ interests.
“Broadcasters must ensure that the editorial integrity of their programming is not influenced by the sponsor,” the document reads.
The guidelines prohibit sponsorship of news, current affairs and religious services on both radio and television. A programme is deemed sponsored if any part of its costs of production, acquisition or transmission is met through payment or other valuable reward to the broadcaster largely to promote the sponsors’ name, image, product, activities or services.
News items such as flashes, bulletin headlines, top stories, special and breaking news must not be sponsored. Other must-not-be sponsored items include; parliamentary programmes; opening of parliament, highlights from parliament, select committee hearings, special committee of parliament, and commissions of inquiry.
Others are election related like campaign reports and polling night results, ministerial speeches, press conferences and speeches by public officials. UCC however, allows the sponsorship of weather broadcasts, financial broadcasts or traffic.
In case a programme is sponsored, a sponsor’s name may be incorporated into the title of the programme provided it is an entertainment variety or sports programme.
While the sponsor’s products and services can be featured, they should not be given undue prominence and be sales pitches that promote the purchase of the products.
Presenters or interviewees appearing in these programmes are also not allowed to endorse the sponsor’s products or services. The guidelines prohibit broadcasters from broadcasting any programme, which has been sponsored by a political party save for an advertisement, which has been distinctly identified.
Even where a programme has been sponsored, broadcasters are not allowed to directly encourage the purchase or rent of such a product or service by the inclusion of advertising copy, prices endorsement or calls to action.
Advertisements must be distinguishable from editorial content especially if they use a situation, performance or style reminiscent of editorial content that might prevent the audience from quickly recognizing the message as an advertisement.
UCC also bans advertisements that promote psychic practices or practices related to the occult which include satanism, casting of spells, palmistry, attempts to contact the dead, divination, the invocation of spirits or demons and exorcism.
For TV, split screen advertising where the TV screen is divided into two parts or more with one showing news or current affairs and the other an advert has also been banned. However, in other programmes it is allowed, provided it doesn’t exceed 50% of screen space.
The guidelines also bar people who regularly present news or informational broadcasts from doing commercial communications unless these communications are meant to promote appeals by registered charities or public services campaigns or announcements for safety, health education, etc.
You want to fail us
Captain Francis Babu, the former chairman of the National Broadcasters Association (NAB) and proprietor of Metro FM, said, “Private media depends on advertisement to survive; if you begin limiting them, it means your aim is to fail them. What is the reason for doing that? Have the people broken the law? What have they done, all over the world, news is the most expensive prime time, when you stop the sponsorships it means you are killing the media?” Babu said, adding, “I don’t know where they are getting this …They don’t consult us, they just come up with things and then direct us on what to do. I think they have gone bonkers,” Babu said.
Kin Kariisa, the chairman of NAB and proprietor of Next Media, the owners of NBS, Salam, Sanyuka TVs and Next radio, said in a text message, “We were consulted.”
Interviewed, Ibrahim Bbosa, head of Public and International Relations at UCC, said many stakeholders were consulted.
“Consultation in the Ugandan sense might mean speaking to everybody but I can say this process started in 2013 and we consulted the Association of Advertisers, Uganda Media Owners Association, service providers especially telecom companies who were the biggest advertisers then, Uganda Consumer Protection Association, NAB. We spent a lot of time going through these guidelines line per line. We also went around the country visiting individual media houses to come up with these guidelines,” he said.
“NAB said starting with 10 minutes of advertising every hour would be drastic because many of them have been doing 20 minutes; we agreed that let them start with 12 minutes as they weave out long-term contracts they have been having with companies because some people pay for a year…”
Professor Goretti Nassanga, a long-time lecturer and media scholar at Makerere University, said, “We have been getting a lot of advert news that influences the media objectivity. How can you broadcast negative news about the sponsor of a programme? They should put all their adverts in the ten minutes that has been given to them. Of course, the broadcasters can’t support it because they are in this for money. But as news consumers, we have been shortchanged for long…,” Nassanga said.