The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has written to American multi-international technology giant, Google LLC to block up to 14 Ugandan Youtube channels, accused of broadcasting messages that are likely to compromise the national security of Uganda.
UCC cites 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 as the YouTube channels that are broadcasting messages that are inciting violence ahead of the 2021 general elections. The cited YouTube channels usually broadcast live National Unity Platform presidential candidate, Robert Kyagulanyi's aka Bobi Wine campaign rallies.
In a December 9, 2020 letter to the chief executive officer of Google Inc, 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 the 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, says once the channels register they will not be stopped from operating.
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 Bobi Wine once they fully register. He says they are in touch with Google and Facebook to ensure that the sites are blocked until when they are registered.
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 a fair and transparent platform. Granted, there are issues of misinformation, disinformation but sometimes these very channels provide a counter narrative that sometimes is a substantive one. These decisions are already going to make some entities start self-censoring which is unfortunate because we already see journalists being censored, being pushed out of the spaces that they need to be…some may say fine I want to register but is the regulator independent enough to grant me that license," said Nanfuka.
Nanfuka says the key emerging questions are whether social media users should be treated as journalists 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 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 the suit.