The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance top bosses led by Permanent Secretary, Aminah Zawedde and her senior team, are on the spot over failure to clear outstanding arrears worth shs800m owed to various media houses across the country.
At the same time, they have selectively been awarding lucrative deals to a few media companies.
TND News and Business Focus understand that ICT Ministry contracted Saatchi & Saatchi (also trading as QGroup) a media agency, to buy advertising space from various media houses between 2020 and 2021.
The media houses included radio stations, TV stations and online newspapers or websites.
The adverts run by media houses included the COVID-19 campaign, Labour Day 2021 and Manifesto Week 2021.
However, to the surprise of several media houses, ICT Ministry selectively paid out full amount to some media houses while leaving out others.
For the deadly COVID-19 campaign, ICT Ministry through Saatch and Saatch paid media houses in installments of 60% and 20%. For almost two years now, the remaining 20% hasn’t been paid. However, a few media houses were paid full amount at once.
This has seen media houses question the criteria ICT Ministry used to pay ‘big and well-connected media houses’ while leaving out others yet they offered the same service.
Business Focus reports that for ‘My Uganda/Manifesto campaign’ and Labour Day adverts, ICT Ministry is yet to pay a single penny to many media houses including Business Focus, but have singled out a few companies and paid them.
It’s understood that media houses are demanding about shs800m for the three campaigns (Manifesto, COVID-19 and Labour Day).
Media houses are now considering suing ICT Ministry and Saatchi & Saatchi for damages caused.
Media houses argue that the actions of ICT Ministry and Saatchi & Saatchi are not only stifling the growth of the media industry, but killing it as they eat big.
For example, on January 16, 2023, Rural Broadcasters Association through their lawyers M/S Odokel Opolot & Co. Advocates wrote to the Managing Director- Saatch and Saatch and shared a copy with the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of ICT, demanding payment of several media houses under the Association for running Government’s COVID-19 media campaign in 2020 and 2021.
“As you are aware, the respective media outlets religiously rendered their services to you during the said period wherein you started paying them discretely by remitting the first installment of 60% in the Month of March, 2021 and another installment of 20% by July, 2021, leaving the said 20% unpaid for a period of one year now,” the letter from M/S Odokel Opolot & Co. Advocates, reads in part.
It adds: “…to the shock and surprise of our clients, you discriminately made full payments of 100% to urban broadcasters for reasons best known to you. You have since behaved like termites that cause destruction underneath yet pretend to be innocent as our clients are aware that all the proceeds were remitted to you but you deliberately chose to divert the same for your own selfish benefit.”
The lawyers of rural broadcasters further say that ICT Ministry and Saatchi & Saatchi’s wrongful actions have left the affected media houses languishing in debts due to accumulated bills from utility companies, taxes, service providers and staff salaries among others while “you chop their hard earned money with a big spoon”.
It is important to note that ICT Ministry is responsible for Government media buying.
However, the Ministry has increasingly come under question for creating unfair competition in the media industry by selectively awarding lucrative deals to a few media houses.
For example, as many media houses are yet to be paid for services rendered two years ago, ICT Ministry recently gave a deal worth Shs500m to a single media house for a campaign that almost ended unnoticed.
It is understood that a few media houses are influencing the actions of ICT Ministry so as to control the media industry.
“What criteria does ICT Ministry use to pay some media houses full amount while leaving others unpaid? Why is the Ministry giving out deals worth millions to a single media house yet they are yet to clear outstanding arrears to other media houses?” a Manager at one of the radio stations in Kampala, questions.
TND News, Business Focus and other affected media houses’ efforts to get a comment from Saatchi & Saatchi and ICT Ministry have since been futile.