Creative arts need self regulation

By: Louis Lwanga

Media reports have been awash with debate over the recent Uganda Communication Commission regulations that affect the entertainment industry.

The regulators were “suspended” by the minister of ICT after an uproar.
These regulations were passed last year and it is alarming that the public perceive that they are only coming to light now.

The laws summarily include The Uganda Communications (Film, Documentaries and Commercial Still Photography) Regulations 2019; and The Stage Play and Public Entertainment Rules 2019, both founded on the Uganda Communications Act 2013, and The Stage Plays and Public Entertainment Act Cap.49.

These rules do not only require creatives to obtain a permit in order to stage any form of public entertainment, but for that content to be pre-approved and censored by UCC, with wide discretion to monitor, preempt and stop the dissemination of this content at the expense of the creative.

The regulations further require one to acquire licences before any production of a film, documentary or still photography for broadcast on any television or Internet channel, with requirements like proof of financial capacity, bank guarantee, and detailed synopsis of the content including the scenes intended to be produced.

The purpose of the law notwithstanding, the conditions required by the regulator are high handed. For a regulator that has done less to support the entertainment industry, the laws proposed are ignorant of the realities of how various local creative stakeholders produce content.

However, the laws are not the subject I am interested in. What we ought to discuss is the state and environment of the entertainment and creative arts industry that made the enactment of these laws possible in the first place. It is no secret that the creative arts industry in Uganda has been largely unregulated for over the years.

I am sure the regulator, and rightly so, is moving in to set standards for the industry that, let’s be honest, needs them. However, the proposed regulations clearly indicate that the powers that be, are calling audibles from the boardroom without being in the field. The gravest mistake the industry stakeholders made, is not self-regulating themselves in a way that would avail the government a policy framework within which to make regulations relevant to the operations of the industry in Uganda.

Our creative arts industry is characterised by unprofessionalism, gambling on how content is produced, amateurism, individualism of creatives, and different groups/factions of creatives whose purpose is more of comradery than setting standards by which the industry should be run.

This hence made it easy for the regulator to step in and try to standardise the industry on their behalf. It is no secret governments the world over have continually tried to control the creative arts industries through censorship regulation, but the creatives, especially in the developed markets, have always fought back with self-regulation, creating a standard within which governments can regulate these industries.

For example in the 1960’s, various US states began enacting ordinances requiring the film industry to apply for permits, submit all motion pictures for examination prior to public exhibition and pay licence fees as well as censoring certain films by imposing rating codes.

Every profession worldwide has self-regulating bodies that standardise their potency. Creative arts are no different with guilds that represent writers, producers, directors and all stake holders.

The point herein is Ugandan creatives need to self-regulate, create statutory bodies to collectively represent their interest, create standards within their fields, and unionise, so as to have adequate representation in the regulation of the industry.

This article first appeared in the Daily Monitor Newspaper of 3rd September, 2020: