7 August 2006

Uganda: Scribes Call for Reconsideration of TV Fees

Jinja — A cross section of media practitioners have called on the government to consider reintroducing the controversial television fees as one way of making the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation financially independent.

This was one of several recommendations made at the close of a four-day public broadcasting workshop held at the Nile Resort Hotel in Jinja on Thursday.

The workshop, under the theme: "Public Broadcasting: Making it a success," was organised by the East African Media Institute (EAMI) with the support of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung.

Collection of television fees of Shs20, 000 began last year but was halted by President Yoweri Museveni.

At the time, the President argued that only TV sets used for commercial purposes and not those belonging to "peasants" should pay the fee, which are according to the provisions of the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Act, 2004, and the Electronic Media Act, 1996, was mandatory.

However, at the close of the workshop where participants were filled in on the challenges that Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa faced in the transformation of state broadcasters into public broadcasters, participants said the fee was necessary to avoid Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC) becoming dependent on commercial incomes.

"Funding of the UBC needs to put the corporation on a sound financial footing to avoid the public broadcaster from being overly dependent on commercial income. The introduction of licence fees should be reconsidered and subventions of specific activities from public expenditure i.e. consolidated fund should be debated," the recommendation read.

The workshop recommended that the UBC be strengthened to enable it fulfil its mandate as a public broadcaster and that its legal framework be reviewed in line with basic principles of public broadcasting.

EAMI Uganda was charged with the responsibility of constituting a working group to plan public awareness campaigns to promote the principles of public broadcasting and to review the law governing the UBC and its funding.

Speaking at the close of the workshop, the President of EAMI Uganda, Mr Michael Wakabi, said the workshop represents a new direction that has been taken with a view of tackling the broader issues affecting the journalism profession, adding that a lot more action would be taken.

The Country Representative of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Mr Jorgen Peters, called on EAMI to push for uniform public broadcasting standards across East Africa, adding that the issue should be on the agenda as the three countries move towards closer integration.

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