London — Many African countries have local content quotas but they are more honored in the breach than in the observance. This week saw Ugandan broadcast regulator step up and announce that it will enforce its 70% quota next month. Russell Southwood looks at local reaction to the announcement and whether it will bite this time.
In 2013, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), broadcast regulator issued a directive which aimed to get broadcasters to increase the level of local content. Three years later stories appeared saying that UCC would impose the 70% local quota, even as media houses pleaded for more time to comply.
According to the six-year old broadcasting policy, local content is defined as content that recognizes the cultural and linguistic diversity of Uganda, carries themes of relevance to local audiences and is actually produced in the country.
At the end of February 2018, Meddie Kagwa, the Head of Multimedia Content at UCC was reported as announcing during a meeting with Government broadcaster UBC that the 70% local content quota would be imposed by May 2019.
Ibrahim Bossa, Manager of Consumer Affairs said that this would be done by checking submitted programming:"All broadcasters periodically submit program line-ups in accordance with the programming standards. The regulator then monitors and records programs for compliance purposes."
This week UCC held a meeting with Uganda's National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the Uganda Film Council about the local content quota. Although reports of the meeting said that "they identified ways to promote the development of local audio-visual content in Uganda", it is unclear whether things will move forward.
NAB Chair Kin Kariisa (who is CEO of NBS TV, 30% of whose content is in Luganda) asked that the new methodology for measuring local content should take into account the different niches broadcasters operate in.
NAB members also proposed the formation of a committee to explore and assess the possibility to buy content in bulk while exploring other areas of collaboration with content producers. The challenges in respect to children's content including the availability and high costs of production were highlighted. Kariisa was concerned that children are consuming foreign content that in his opinion is not advisable when building the country's future generation.
Content providers under the Uganda Film Council expressed concern on the amount of cheap, foreign content carried by Free-To-Air broadcasters and the high levels of piracy of local content.
Participants also pointed to the high cost of producing local content and increased competition from international broadcasters and online platforms like You Tube and Netflix.
The reality of Ugandan broadcasting is that it is a relatively small market with many channels and few channels have either the audiences to attract the rather limited advertising available or the will to spend the little money they have on local content. The closure of Urban TV points to how tough the fight is between those the few bigger TV channels.
The imperative for a local content quota of 70% is now caught between this inability to pay for local content and the increased availability of other (largely non-Ugandan) content online. Ironically many of the international broadcasters like BBC (which is co-producing with Channels TV in Nigeria) and Deutsche Welle (which is co-producing with NBS and UBC) have the resources to focus on producing local content.
Perhaps in these circumstances, mixed measures might be helpful. If childrens' TV was to be a priority Government would need to decide to channel some level of subsidy through either UCC or the Uganda Film Council. Likewise, the local content definition might be widened to include some level of East African content from neighbors Kenya and Tanzania. Otherwise the local content quota will remain a rhetorical commitment defeated by economic realities.