By Dennis Katungi
Last week, the Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) organized a sensitization workshop for video Libraries, Cinemas, and Video Hall operators at their Head office in Bugolobi.
The workshop was intended to sensitize the film industry stakeholders on the laws and standards governing film classification, exhibition, distribution, and intellectual property issues. The interesting aspect for me was - some stakeholders did not profess ignorance about the regulatory framework by UCC, rather, they were saying: ‘we know but we deliberately ignore!' One of those attending asked the question: ‘What will you do if we don’t comply?’ I was baffled!
Quite often, it is not that citizens do not know about their obligations or are ignorant about the laws of this country. The puzzle to solve is Compliance and Enforcement! There is no point having rules and regulations which are unenforceable. It is because of that state of affairs that we see a failure to manage traffic. Road users are a law unto themselves, hence the chaos you see on the roads and highways!
What UCC did was right and proper. Educate and sensitize the stakeholders so that when you enforce, no one pleads ignorance – which, in itself is no defense. But, will UCC crack the whip? Section 37 of the UCC Act 2013 mandates the Commission to issue licenses for distributors and exhibitors of cinematographic and video works.
A person or entity who contravenes subsection (1) commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding twenty-four currency points or imprisonment not exceeding twelve months or both. Why do we still have unregulated Bibanda, where you find teenagers and school-going children watching all sorts of unbecoming videos including pornography? Is the weakness in enforcement?
For UCC to consider an individual or entity for licensing, the applicant must complete a license application form. They ought to attach: a copy of certificate of incorporation, certified true copy of memorandum of Understanding and Articles of Association, a fire service certificate, proof of ownership of the premises or copy of the tenancy agreement, signed undertaking of the distributors or exhibitors as outlined in the guidelines for Film distribution and exhibition and also, effect payment of application processing Fees. Are the licensed players the offenders or do we have a parallel informal unregulated sector?
At the end of the sensitization session with operators of video libraries, cinemas, and video hall operators, Fr Lokodo, the Minister of State for Ethics & Integrity who was the Chief Guest, enumerated his challenges fighting pornography. With his Pornography Control Committee (PCC) in tow, he said that even MPs and some Cabinet Ministers queried him on why he was denying them optical nutrition by fighting porn.
UCC earlier this year signed a memorandum of understanding with PCC to cooperate and collaborate in early detection of pornography on all communications, prosecution of offenders and training media personnel on gray areas.
At the same workshop, UCC brought in key players such as Uganda Regulatory Services Bureau (URSB), Uganda Media Council, Uganda Police and others involved in the sector. URSB enlightened participants on Intellectual Property - creations of the mind, inventions, literary and artistic works, designs and symbols including names and images used in commerce. They explained that intellectual property rights grant the owner exclusive rights to exploit and benefit from their creation. Quite often, our people are short-changed by the fact that they fail or ignore to register their Copyright, Trademarks or any forms of intellectual property. As such, they lose out when their work is copied or duplicated because they have no enforceable rights.
UCC highlighted that all film distributors are required to obtain a release certificate from the Commission for every film they intend to screen. There are distributors', exhibitors', and premises' licenses to be processed and a fee to be paid. There was an outcry by stakeholder representatives on what they termed the ‘burden of taxation’. They said that government does not aid them in their struggles to create films but swings in to tax them at every turn. The session was appreciated by all stakeholders and ended with Fr Lokodo, the Chief Guest symbolically burning pornographic materials in the UCC back yard.
The writer works with Uganda Media Centre