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Sanyuka TV ordered to apologize to singer Omulangira Suuna

Sanyuka TV has been ordered to apologise to musician Omulangira Suuna and to retract offensive statements made against him during the programme Morning Express aired on 27th August 2021.  

The retraction should be effected by broadcasting an unconditional apology issued to the complainant during the same programme,” the Commission said in its ruling on the matter last month. 

The presenters should ensure that the apology is made with an equivalent degree of prominence and timing in accordance with Regulation 12 of the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations 2019,” the ruling further states.   The decision follows a complaint lodged by Suuna Emmanuel Abdur Shakur a.k.a OS-Suna through his lawyers M/S Elgon Associated Advocates.

OS-Suna alleged that he had been defamed through malicious utterances and unsubstantiated allegations made against him by the presenters of Morning Express programme, that is Waako Bryan Kennedy (Bryan Waako) and Kawalya Ssemulondo Isaac (Kayz), together with panelists, Makuliro William (Mako Williams) and Lubega Ismail (Isma Olaxess).

The complainant contended that the presenters and panellists had falsely accused him of practising witchcraft and owning a shrine; being a failure in the music industry; and engaging in prostitution with older women for financial gain.

OS-Suna further alleged that the allegations were “baseless, untrue and unfounded,” and only intended to tarnish his name and image.  

Finally, Suna claimed that he had not been given an opportunity to explain himself against the “character assassination” and “malicious defamation”, which he said had caused anxiety and discomfort within his family and fan base. 

In line with the Uganda Communications Act 2013 and the Regulations there under, the Commission conducted a hearing of the complaint and framed three key issues for determination. These were: –

  1. Whether the Commission had jurisdiction to hear and determine the complaint;  
  2. Whether Sanyuka TV breached the Minimum Broadcasting Standards enshrined in the Uganda Communications Act 2013; 
  3. What were the rights and remedies available to the parties. 

The Commission’s Jurisdiction 

The mandate of the Commission in respect to the hearing and determination of complaint(s) relating to communication services is articulated in the Uganda Communications Act 2013, as well as in the Regulations made under the said Act.  Section 5 (j) of the Act empowers the Commission “to receive, investigate and arbitrate complaints relating to communication services and take necessary action.”  

Regulations 7 and 8 of the Uganda Communications (Consumer Protection) Regulations 2019 provide for the Commission to “promptly receive, investigate and arbitrate any consumer complaint relating to communication services, including quality of service and take necessary action.” 

Through its letter dated 13th September 2021, Sanyuka TV contested the jurisdiction of the Commission, claiming that the complainant had shown intention to institute legal proceedings.  At the hearing before the Commission, Sanyuka TV argued that proceeding with the said hearing would pre-empt the other proceedings that the complainant may decide to pursue like filing a case before courts of law. 

However, OS-Suna’s lawyers rebutted this view, arguing that their client had approached the Commission to enforce its mandate in respect to the Minimum Broadcasting Standards, while other remedies are subject to different processes and not connected with the mandate of the Commission. 

Upon reviewing the submissions and relevant provisions of the law, the Commission found that the complainant had a right to choose whichever forum he desired to lodge his complaint before.”  

Further, there was no evidence presented to show that there was a case in court relating to the same matter.  

If the Commission stopped hearing the case just because of threat of court action, it would amount to abdication of its legal and regulatory duty, the Commission ruled. 

Minimum Broadcasting Standards  

According to Section 31 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, a person shall not broadcast any programme unless the broadcast complies with Schedule 4”.  Schedule 4 consists of the Minimum Broadcasting Standards, clearly stating that that news items must be free from distortion of facts. 

In its submissions, Sanyuka TV did not deny that the said allegations had been made. However, it argued that the comments had been made by guests on the show, and not their own staff. Sanyuka TV also stated that it had evidence to back up the content that was aired.  

However, the Commission found that Sanyuka TV could not evade culpability merely because the statements had been made by guests rather than its presenters. The Commission also found that the evidence presented to support the allegations was insufficient. 

It is the Commission’s finding that the comments that were made during the impugned programme, if taken in totality, were in breach of the Minimum Broadcasting Standards as they were broadcast by Sanyuka TV without any evidence to back them up, the Commission ruled.  

“The Commission finds that the content broadcast was one-sided, without any balance. The programme contained many unconfirmed allegations, which required balancing by seeking for the complainant’s side before proceeding to broadcast it,  the ruling states.  

It was also noted that the complainant had demanded an apology and retraction from Sanyuka TV, but this was not granted. 

It is clear that Sanyuka TV failed to dispense with the obligation of fairness, objectivity and impartiality regarding its content when it failed to contact the complainant for his side of the story and hence breached Section 31 and Standard (a)(v) and (b) of Schedule 4 of the Uganda Communications Act 2013, as well as Regulation 11 of the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations 2019,” the Commission said. 

Rights and Remedies 

In its ruling, the Commission made the below listed directions:- 

  1. Sanyuka TV retracts the statements complained about and issues an apology to the Complainant. 
  2. Sanyuka TV provides an opportunity to the complainant and/or his lawyers to appear during the same programme and offer his side of the story in response to the allegations made against him. 
  3. Sanyuka TV immediately institutes measures to ensure that all content broadcast during the programme Morning Express and all other programmes comply with the Minimum Broadcasting Standards and other relevant laws.
  4. Sanyuka TV pays a total fine of USD 520 to the Commission in accordance with Regulation 40 and 41 (l)(b) of the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations 2019, and with Regulation 8(12)(d)(viii) of the Uganda Communications (Consumer Protection) Regulations 2019 and item 12 of Part II of Schedule 1 of the Uganda Communications (Fees and Fines) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. 

The Commission did not consider the complainant’s demand for monetary damages as it was not seized with jurisdiction to dispose of the issue. The Commission, however, advised the complainant to seek such redress in a court of competent jurisdiction.  

The rights to appeal were explained to the parties. 

Adopted from the UCC Blog

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