Free Airtime to Government Programs directive is unfortunate for Uganda’s economy

The Ministry of Information and National Guidance Hon. Rose Namayanja Nsereko, issued a directive during the national broadcasting forum held at the Imperial Royale Hotel, Kampala on March 18, 2014 requiring thus:

“Each Radio and/or TV Station must allocate at least one (1) hour of free airtime every week during primetime (6:00 am -10.00am) or 5:00pm to 10:00m).”

To that effect, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) has run a quarter page public notice in The New Vision of 7th April 2014 (see front photo) requiring all Radio and TV stations to identify the specific hour of the week they have designated for government programs and communicate to UCC not later than Tuesday April 8, 2014.

It is unfortunate that UCC has failed to advise the Ministry well on this. It just sets a bad precedence. It is a classic case of government interference in other people’s business.

A bad precedence?

The above directive is likely to cause a lot of doubt by the business community on the ability of Government to meet her running costs and if allowed to go ahead, it will set a very bad precedence.

The move is likely to cause a high political risk assessment of Uganda by both local and international investors. It is going to be unpopular directive with potential to send away investors.

In fact, government should consider diverting the money currently being spent in promoting foreign direct investment (FDI) to Uganda to paying for the one hour needed from Radio and TV stations to reduce bad publicity this directive is going to create.

What next?

Let’s wait for the business community’s response especially from Enterprise Uganda, Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA), Uganda Investment Authority (UIA), etc. We expect a public statement against the move as it will have a long term negative impact on the economy and doing business in Uganda.

This is government intervention of the highest order.

An hour of prime time is worth Ugx. 5m (US $1,923) for a top radio station US $ Ugx. 10m (US $3,846) for a top TV station. That is a monthly cost of US $7692 and US $15,384 for radio and TV respectively. This is a huge cost to give away for free.

Is it CSR? How will the TV and Radio stations record this?

What assurance does the business community have that such a directive won’t extend to newspapers, magazines, telecom companies, utility companies, shops, supermarkets, petrol stations, real estates, Hotels, and a plethora of all businesses in Uganda.

UCC has a responsibility of advising the Hon. Minister in charge of National Guidance that Radio and TV stations already pay licenses and taxes. They are not government institution. They are private business driven by profits. They have loans and a plethora of other obligations to meet. And have no obligation whatsoever, to offer their stock in trade –airtime – to government.

For God and My Country.

Copyright Mustapha B Mugisa, CFE 2014. All rights reserved.

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