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An Update on Mediation at Commercial Court, Closed Today

by on May.27, 2015, under Observations

When we set out to form the first free-to-air 24/7 sports only TV channel in Uganda (and today the only one on the continent), little did we know what ordeals we will have to go through, and it’s not over.
We believed in a good thing and invested into our dream. We have the investment license and besides that, all other required licenses to broadcast channel 43. Sports TV Uganda Limited was incorporated in October 2007, and has been licensed by the Uganda Broadcasting Council [1] on February 29, 2008. Sports TV has commenced test broadcast on July 14, 2008.

The station was broadcasting sports from around the world, and 24/7, free-to-air. It is privately owned by Bent and Nada Andersen. Sports TV was broadcasting Fox Sports.

Sports TV has acquired all its broadcasting equipment from ABE Electronica in Italy, including a solid state digital-ready 3KWA transmitter. By installing brand-new state-of-the-art equipment, Sports TV has ensured that it is fully prepared for the transition to digital broadcasting expected to take place in 2015. Sports TV is, as other media houses in Uganda, fully licensed by Uganda Broadcasting Council, Uganda Communication Commission and Uganda Media Council.

Some time in 2009 Vision Group team came to visit and collect tips, contacts and advice regarding setting up of Bukedde TV. They were amazed with how much one can do on a small budget. They were planning to spend $ 2.4 million on their setup but after visiting us, they ended up spending up to $ 500,000 including construction of their TV building in Industrial Area.

Next time they visited was in 2011, to collect all our equipment as we had agreed to lease them the equipment and frequency for the following four years. The deal was simple: we did not have more resources to continue bleeding in order to keep the business alive and Vision Group needed an entry into English TV by setting up Urban TV. We agreed on 1/3 – 2/3 broadcasting time split, meaning that one third of the time will be occupied by Sports TV with our full station branding and visual presence, and two thirds will be covered by Urban TV.

From the start it did not go well. In their wisdom, they took our station off air completely and started broadcasting music videos 24/7, under the pretext of testing. We did not want to have arguments so we left it at that. Vision Group was supposed to grow our business together with theirs; instead, they never pitched any of our programs to any of their clients. Never collected a coin in advertising money for live programming of the following: Scottish Premier League, French League, Dutch League, Belgian League, National Rugby League, DTM touring cars live and many other regular live sporting events.

Vision Group never gave us any accountability for advertising sales; never produced a monthly report, avoided to meet on a regular basis, avoided to report to us any breakdown of equipment or broadcast. Basically they had appropriated our station and were doing with it whatever they wanted.

In May 2014, slightly over half-way through the contract, they informed us that they are not doing very well with Bukedde 2 (in the meantime, they bought a frequency from UBC to move Urban TV and came up with this brilliant idea that they should start a second Luganda channel). We were not concerned with this information because we had another 15 months to the end of our contract.

Then we were asked to attend a meeting and were told by Robert Kobushenga that we have to replace the transmitter if we want our contract to continue, and by the way, they will close Bukedde 2 because it is not profitable and start broadcasting TV West.

Replacing a transmitter is practically investing another 100,000 $ in new equipment, yet our transmitter is barely 7 years old today and this equipment has a life-span of 20-25 years. besides, Vision Group was in charge of all repairs and running costs for equipment, clearly spelt in the contract and finally, why buy a new transmitter when the faulty transmitter is modular and faulty modules can well be repaired at ABE Electronica?

As we were agreeing to send the modules to Italy and on our side, we had arranged for factory to receive and repair the modules at a cost of 1,750 Euro, Vision Group failed to send the modules on time (we were travelling abroad) and they run into holidays in Italy. SO the broadcast was simply abandoned in July 2014, our station taken off-air and our equipment kept by Vision Group. They sent a termination notice for a contract that had a clear expiry term in August 2015 and could only be terminated if either party goes bankrupt.

On our return from Europe, we requested for inspection of equipment and our letter was not answered. We requested that our equipment is returned to us in fully working condition and that letter was not answered either. We thereafter sent a notice to sue and finally filed a suit in Commercial Court under case number 738/2014.

We were advised that we have to have mediation. Sure, we did. During the mediation process, Vision Group was tasked to show us our equipment. We were appalled to find our equipment in their stores, some sitting on the shelves, most scattered on the floor.

We saw the Studio Transmitter Link, an expensive piece of equipment, laying on the rooftop of Vision Group, delicate cables broken, parts strewn around. It was a disgusting sight to someone who had invested their life savings in this.

We were met with so much arrogance from Vision Group side. Interestingly, they appropriate our station, frequency, live satellite feed of Fox Sports and Deutsche Welle, our studio and broadcasting equipment and now they are giving us smirks as if we were thieves.

Mediator had thereafter instructed Vision Group to set up our equipment and broadcast for one hour, because all the time their TV Director Mark Walungama was claiming that all our equipment works. During the very session he was asked by the mediator if he was certain that the broadcast can take place and he confirmed it. Of course, nothing happened.

On the appointed day we went to Vision Group to see our studio end equipment broadcasting our live satellite feed via Studio Transmitter Link to our transmitter and antennae system in Kololo Summit View, only to be told that all engineers are absent.

They were in Kololo, trying to get the transmitter going with a hard-disk with some old recorded Tottenham match, trying to dupe us and the mediator of Commercial Court into believing they are doing a live broadcast from Industrial Area.

We closed the mediation today and have submitter a request for court hearing date. We still can’t believe that Vision Group can behave this way, especially because Their CEO is a lawyer by profession and our contract is written in a language that even a primary school child can understand.

Vision Group was in charge of running costs, maintenance and repairs, and most importantly, on expiry of the contract they were to return a fully operational TV station to us, the way they got it from us, reasonable wear and tear excluded.

Right now the emotions are still strong but main question is: we want our TV station back, functional and operational so we can continue working. We had faith in the CEO of Vision Group the day we signed the contract that he will honour his obligations to us. Is this the best picture the biggest media group in Uganda can paint of itself, Government of Uganda included in that picture as the main shareholder?

We shall see you in court, soon enough.


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