UCC move to tax online content, face opposition

By Jacquiline Nakandi

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The Uganda communication Commission's recent move to have all social media and online content creators licensed and taxed continues to face resistance from various sections of the public.

Contestants of the move say that people are already paying the Over-The-Top (OTT) tax, and that adding a license fee would cause unnecessary disruptions in Uganda's Information Communication and Technology industry.

The government introduced OTT tax in 2018, requiring social media users to pay a sh200 daily tax to access sites like Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp.

The Uganda Communications Commission, the communications industry regulator, issued a public notice on September 7, requiring that anyone wishing to publish information online that transmits sound, video or data intended for simultaneous reception by the public, should regularise their operations by obtaining the necessary approvals from UCC by October 5, 2020.

UCC cited Section 27 of the 2013 Uganda Communications Act, among others, which prohibits broadcasting content without a broadcasting licence.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Women in Fintech Hackathon in Kampala on Monday (September 14, 2020), the HiPipo chief executive officer Innocent Kawooya said that it is not the right move and urged UCC to reconsider it.

Kawooya said that retracting the move will help avoid unnecessary disruptions and the negative publicity by the regulator.

According to Kawooya, whatever the regulator seeks to achieve with the new regulations, be it preventing potentially harmful practices such as hate speech, cyber-bulling and revenge pornography, can be achieved using the National Cybersecurity framework.

"You cannot make such a regulation without consulting with the stakeholders and whatever they seek to address, it can be done using the terms and conditions stipulated by the National Information Technology Authority.

Last week city lawyer Ivan Bwowe also petitioned High Court in Kampala protesting the move, saying that it is illegal and an abuse of the law.

Bwowe said the directive has grave consequences as it aims at limiting and penalising the use of social media accounts and limiting the exercise of constitutional rights especially freedom of expression.

"The public notice has grave consequences as it seems to limit and penalize the use of our social media accounts but also limiting the exercise of our Constitutional rights of freedom of expression, privacy and civic rights and activities", reads the petition in part.

Bwowe also argued that he is aware that UCC does not have the mandate to regulate social media companies many of which hold accounts and cannot limit the content posted there provided the content satisfies the community rules and standards of the respective social media platforms.