The government of Uganda is initiating plans to have a new law to regulate artists. Among other provisions, the proposed regulations require an artist to obtain a permit from Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) before they can perform.
What artists say about the law
The artists under their umbrella group, the National Union of Creative, Performing Artists and Allied workers say the proposed law is an infringement not only on the industry, but will also stifle the growth of talent. Comedian Hanington Bujingo argues that the regulations contravene the constitution under article 29 and wants more consultations on the issue. “These regulations contravene many sections of the constitution and we request they are reintroduced on the floor of parliament to be revised and must be repealed. We have no problem with being regulated but the laws they enacted don’t favour us because we were not consulted to that effect. These new regulations will kill the entire creative industry,” Bujingo narrates.
Catherine Anite, a lawyer who also doubles as a member of the International High-level panel of legal experts on media freedom said, if the restrictive legislation is enacted, it will not only kill the entertainment sector but also curtail debate and criticism, which are a key tenet to a democratic society. According to Anite, UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions emphasizes the need for governments to shape the design and implementation of policies and measures that support the creation, production, distribution of and access to cultural goods and services.
Creative content, especially artistic expression in Uganda is protected under article 29 1(a) of the constitution which provides for every person’s right to freedom of speech, media, thought, conscience , belief and association.
Anite warns that UCC’s proposed measures are a misguided misconception to gag expression, which all Ugandans must take interest in, since it has a trickle-down effect of limiting expression and killing creativity. However, Anite credits the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) minister for intervening to suspend its operationalization. Even though the suspension of the operationalization of the law is a good step forward, a consultative process with all key stakeholders to find a win- win solution should follow.
Farida Shaheed, the former UN Special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights stated that, “whenever we limit, try to control, restrict or remove artistic expressions from the public eye, we impoverish humanity. And, when we kill creativity, we kill a part of our humanity, and when this becomes extreme, we end up with the grey silence of the graveyard.” Therefore, the Government must ensure that any laws restricting expression in art must be clear, serve a legitimate purpose and should be necessary in a democratic society.
UCC should also embrace the fact that the right to freedom of expression does not only apply to information or ideas that are favourably received or regarded as inoffensive, but also to those that offend, shock or disturb the State or any sector of the population, a position emphasised by courts in the Charles Onyango Obbo and Andrew Mwenda Vs Attorney General case. These artists should be allowed to portray societal ills and evils without being construed as promoting them.
It is clear from international standards that artistic expression and creativity are indispensable rights and are deeply tied to freedom of expression. It is therefore imperative for the State to acknowledge and promote the important role of artists and creatives, including those involved in the creative process like producers, publishers, distributors among others. The major obligation of the state therefore must be to adopt steps necessary for the preservation, the growth and the diffusion of culture, which includes the arts.
Under the contentious Stage Play and Public Entertainment Rules, S.I. No. 80 of 2019 and the Uganda Communication (Film, Documentaries and Commercial Still Photography) Regulations, S.I. No. 79 of 2019, the UCC wields enormous and superfluous powers to regulate and monitor content to ensure it is in line with the “minimum broadcasting standards”, which in themselves are quite unclear in scope. They also irrationally and unrealistically require all content creators to acquire permits before displaying their works, which to a large extent will curtail creativity and hinder economic growth in the sector.
Cultural diversity is well-protected under the UNESCO’s 2005 Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which emphasizes the need for governments to shape the design and implementation of policies and measures that support the creation, production, distribution of and access to cultural goods and services.
The Convention stresses that these cultural goods and services are vectors of identity, values and meaning, and not mere commodities or consumer goods therefore by bringing such regulations, values and diversity are infringed upon.
The Ugandan government ought to appreciate that the arts are not just a luxurious notion but a vital part of our civic space, especially in affirming communal values, and developing societal norms.
UNESCO’s recommendations emphasize the state’s duty to protect, defend and assist artists and their freedom of creation, and ensure full participation of artists in the life of the communities in which they practice their art, and be associated in the formulation of local and national policies.By putting such regulation in place, Uganda which is a party to international covenants will have violated the covenant that protects the art and expression. As a signatory to international covenants that protect the arts and expression, Uganda is bound by provisions under article 15 (3) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) to respect the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds in the form of art.
UCC defends the regulations
Although UCC has defended the proposed law on the premise that it has the mandate to monitor and enforce compliance in relation to content, there is need for more engagements with key stakeholders to find a better solution.
Under section 5 (1) of the Uganda Communications Commission Act 2013, the commission is mandated to set standards, monitor and enforce compliance relating to content, this is the basis upon which UCC seeks to impose the new regulation to the Arts industry.
· An artist must obtain a permit before he or she can perform.
· Under Regulation 6, no person shall engage in any form of film production, still photography without license from the commission.
· An artist will be required to attach a full description of all the scenes of the entire film and the text of all the music to be used in the film.
· No person shall engage in any form of commercial photography without a license from the commission and will only take place in areas gazetted by the commission.
· The applicant has to disclose his/her budget for the film and attach his/her net worth to prove financial capability.
By Edward Anyoli
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