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ARTICLE 19 legal analysis: Communications Regulatory Authority Bill

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - 18 April 2012 - In March 2012, the Government of Uganda tabled the Communications Regulatory Authority Bill, 2012 (the Bill), a major piece of legislation intended to consolidate and harmonise two existing and overlapping laws – the Uganda Communications Act and the Electronic Media Act – and merge the regulators they establish into a single Communications Regulatory Authority (the Authority). The resulting Bill principally covers broadcasting, telecommunications and postal services, but takes in cinemas and video libraries as well.

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the initiative to create a more coherent legal framework governing these sectors. Moreover, the Bill contains a number of positive features. It places significant emphasis on making communications services widely available at affordable rates, and proposes innovative funding arrangements for the Authority, which will minimise its reliance on funding allocated by Parliament – thus potentially enhancing its independence.

At the same time, the Bill is out of step with international standards in many and significant ways. Most notably, with the exception of the funding arrangements, it fails to provide any credible safeguards of the Authority's independence from the Government. The powers of the Minister responsible for information and communications technology (ICT Minister) over the Authority will include approving its budget, appointing and dismissing members of its Board, and issuing binding guidelines to them. The Minister will even be able to recommend removal of judges on the Communications Tribunal appointed to hear complaints against, amongst others, the Minister.

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