The commission will instruct Internet Service Providers and telecom companies to block the sites that fail to comply
All persons currently offering or planning to start providing online data communication and broadcasting services have been asked to obtain authorisation from the Uganda Communication Commission (UCC).
In a public notice issued on Monday, UCC is targeting 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.
"All persons engaged in the provision of the above services are accordingly advised to regularise their operations by obtaining authorisation from UCC by October 5," reads the press notice.
Ibrahim Bbosa, the UCC spokesperson, said any person running a digital platform such as blogs, videos on demand, or web-based radio or television for purposes of disseminating news, content on a commercial scale is required to have authorisation from the commission.
"If you do not regularise and somebody complains about your content and an investigation is done about your content and it is found to be in breach of existing standards and not found not to be authorised by the commission, you will be blocked," Bbosa said in an interview.
He said the commission will instruct Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and telecom companies to block the sites that fail to comply.
"We have done it before, so if you are still found in breach of law, we shall notify you and if you are don't act, we shall block the site," Bbosa added.
In 2018, UCC ordered all ISPs to disable several news websites for failure to register with the communication regulator.
The regulation does not affect persons who are doing peer-to-peer communications such as bloggers who put up content as a hobby, not paid for, and not attracting advertising.
Bbosa said, in accordance with sections 2, 5, and 27 of the Act and Regulation 5 of the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations 2019, UCC is mandated to license, regulate and set standards for the provision of all communication services in Uganda, including radio communication and online broadcasting. Regulation of communication services is intended to promote and safeguard the interest of consumers, operators, viewers, and listeners.
Traditional broadcasters, TV, and radio, who have terrestrial means will be required to get authorisation if they are going to run online content different from that of the main establishment.
"Those ones already have a licence, if they have content they are putting online, they only have to notify the commission. Because their initial licence covers it and the terms and conditions require that what they put in studio is what they put online," Bbosa said.
Is this because of elections?
Bbosa said the regulation is not hinged on the elections, since the polls are a one-off event. "This process started in 2016.
We first started with a sensitisation approach to help people understand these digital regulations. But it is a good tool also to be able to regulate election-related violence that happens online," Bbosa said.
As we head into the general elections and campaigns that are expected to virtual, many people are establishing online radios, blogs which need to be regulated, Bbosa said.
Giles Muhame, the president of Uganda Online Publications Association, said he supports UCC's move, which he believes will streamline the sector.
"We have been paying for the last two years. We negotiated for the fee to be brought down so that all of us can afford it.
Livingstone Sewanyana, the executive director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), however, said the measures are aimed at restricting free space.
"These issues of registering are intended to limit access to information and gagging freedom of speech ahead of the 2021 polls.
This is not a surprise that the enforcement is coming up towards elections. They want to stifle people's freedom of expression and I think such measures should be taken to court and challenged," he said.
Gerald Businge, a digital journalism and multimedia production lecturer at the Makerere University School of Liberal and Performing Arts described the move by UCC as unfortunate.
"What they are doing is to strangle the local media entrepreneurs yet big players such as Facebook, YouTube are taking over and they can't regulate them," Businge said.
He said UCC should be supporting local entrepreneurs by putting in place incentives that will enable them to operate professionally.