Electronic broadcasters have declined to offer free airtime to the government to sensitize the public on COVID-19 vaccination.
The government, through the telecommunications regulator, Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) had demanded free airtime on radio and TV stations every Wednesday at 8 pm and Sunday 8:00-8.30pm “to mobilize the masses to go for COVID-19 vaccinations.”
Despite numerous vaccine donations and purchases in government stores and an increase in COVID-19 infections, there is relative vaccination hesitancy, with security forces especially upcountry now illegally forcing some people to vaccinate against their will.
The letter to broadcasters dated December 23 and signed by Suzan Wegoye, UCC acting executive director, the commission said it was implementing a directive recently issued by President Museveni on November 15.
But in a swift response, the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) says if government wants to sensitize the population about COVID-19 vaccinations through media houses, then it has to book and pay for its officials’ appearances on radios and TV stations.
NAB says like every other industry, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit hard the media industry and having already offered government free airspace from February 2020 to sensitize the population on COVID-19, media houses cannot afford to offer any more free broadcasting space.
“As you are well aware, the broadcasters and media, in general, have been very aggressive with campaigns since February 2020. These voluntary COVID-19 sensitization campaigns were very effective. The awareness levels post the campaign was estimated to be above 95% despite the lack of or minimal financial support from government to the media industry. In the same breath that after the second wave, we foresaw the need for a deliberate campaign on mass vaccination, we took the initiative and sent a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister on the June 21st, 2021 and reminders thereafter, informing, the government about the need to reactivate the said media campaigns…Unfortunately, we did not receive any response.” reads NAB’s letter signed by Kin Kariisa chairman also the proprietor of Next Media Group.
“As a regulator, UCC is aware of the negative effects that the pandemic has had on the media industry financially, and yet broadcasters still have to pay taxes, license fees, employees’ salaries, meet operational costs and much more. Considering our efforts thus far towards the fight against COVID-19 and with millions of vaccine donations in stores, the least the government can do is budget for a deliberate sustained media campaign to ensure the jabs are administered to the population before the vaccines expire,” Kariisa added.
“Please note that we’ll continue to run the presidential COVID-19 addresses for free, with or without notice. We however cannot host these numerous talk shows for free. Media services just like fuel for ambulances, tents, vaccines and other government vehicles need to be paid for. We have bills to pay to keep the services on air and we don’t receive any government subsidies. The media has done previous work on publicizing Covid related messages but to this date, many of our members are yet to be paid.”
The response has been copied to the prime minister, ministries of Finance, ICT, Health, Presidency, radio stations, all TV stations among others.