Uganda Communications Tribunal: Regulations Fall Short of Consulting an Impartial Arbiter

The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology and National Guidance is in the process of establishing the Uganda Communications Tribunal which is provided for by section 60 of the Uganda Communications Act. According to section 64 of the Communications Act, the tribunal will, among others, hear and determine all matters relating to communication services arising from decisions made by UCC and the minister responsible for information and communications technology. Once it comes into operation, the tribunal will provide an opportunity for separation of the policy making and regulatory organ of the communications sector from the organ that delivers justice. The commission has also taken steps to regulate online content including on blogs and social media, although there are contestations over its regulatory mandate over digital media. In regulating digital media, UCC cites sections 2, 5, and 27 of the Uganda Communications Act of 2013 and Regulation 5 of the Uganda Communications (Content) Regulations 2019, which it says gives it the mandate to license, regulate and set standards for the provision of all communication services in Uganda, including online broadcasting. Under the Communications Act, communication services that are regulated by UCC and which will fall under the purview of the tribunal, constitute “services performed consisting of the dissemination or interchange of audio, visual or data content using postal, radio, or telecommunications media, data communication, and includes broadcasting.” This means individuals aggrieved by ministerial or regulatory decisions related to postal, online, radio, and television services will be able to lodge appeals with the tribunal. This brief examines the regulations as proposed and whether they would provide for an effective and independent appellate body that will check the actions of the minister and the communications regulator.