Broadcasters refuse to air government’s census message for free

Man Jose Kayima

The National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) has refused to comply with a directive from the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) to broadcast a message promoting the National Population and Housing Census 2024, citing a lack of budgetary provisions.

The refusal came after the UCC issued a directive to all broadcasters to air a message from President Museveni promoting the National Population and Housing Census 2024.

In a statement, released on May 7, signed by Joyce Kasirye on behalf of the executive director, broadcasters were instructed to air the message between May 8-20, following the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance guidelines for free government airtime.

“All broadcasters are urged to promote and support the National Population and Housing Census 2024 to ensure its success,” the statement reads in part.

The Commission also reminded broadcasters of their obligation to allocate time for coverage of national events and functions, as stipulated in Schedule 6: Conditions of a license in the Uganda Communications Act 2013.

It called upon all media houses to comply and give maximum publicity to the National Population and Housing Census 2024.

However, NAB Chairman Innocent Nahabwe, in a statement, expressed appreciation for the importance of the census but raised concerns about the funding for media coverage.

He emphasised that expecting media houses to comply with such directives without appropriate budgetary provisions sets a worrying precedent.

“Media organisations operate as commercial entities, paying licensing fees to the UCC, taxes, and facing financial obligations such as staff salaries and operational expenses,” he said.

Nahabwe noted that deliberate budgeting for national initiatives such as the census should be undertaken, similar to other adequately budgeted programmes.

“It is based on these considerations that we have regrettably declined to comply with the directive issued by the UCC and will advise our members accordingly,” said Nahabwe.

He stressed that broadcasters typically provide free coverage for national emergencies but expect budgetary allocations for pre-planned events like the census.

“NAB has been actively engaging with various government institutions and parastatals to emphasize the need for deliberate planning and budgeting for media coverage of government programs such as the Census,” he said.

NAB has requested a reconsideration of the directive and seeks constructive dialogue to support the census while addressing the concerns of media stakeholders.

He stated that the Census has been in planning for the last 10 years and should have been adequately planned for.

“As media stakeholders committed to upholding professional standards and fostering constructive engagement with regulatory bodies, we believe that effective communication and collaboration are essential for the successful implementation of national programs,” he said.

Nahabwe affirmed that the association remains committed to promoting national development initiatives and looks forward to engaging with the UCC and government institutions in a spirit of partnership and mutual understanding.

This development may affect the widespread dissemination of information about the census.

The Uganda Bureau of Statistics aims to gather vital demographic data to inform decision-making, but the funding dispute may hinder the success of this national programme.

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