How radio callers have turned into power brokers

Did you know that he people you hear defending politicians on radio could have been hired? Our investigation show how they hammer out their deals.

Sunday July 20 2014

A radio presenter at work. Some radio callers have

A radio presenter at work. Some radio callers have used the opportunity of being on air to front interests of politicians they support. Photo by Joseph Kiggundu  


Kampala- When a radio or television presenter or talk show host is about to open telephone lines to allow the listeners to chip in with their views, perennial callers ready themselves.

“You enter studio telephone numbers in several mobile phones and wait (for) when the host announces the listeners can call in,” Mr Bashir Mugerwa, a perennial radio caller, says. “Then you dial all the telephone numbers at once.”
If one call fails, another will go through. This is how painstaking making calls on several radio and television stations, especially political and social programmes, has become.

For the uninitiated callers, the only remaining avenues for passing feedback to broadcasters may be letters to newspaper editors and social media platforms.

The airtime is left to a few “skilled” power brokers who often call in programmes not to give unique ideas, but advance political or business aspirations of those that are dear to them at that moment.

Many of these brokers, our investigations have revealed, solicit money from people entangled in scandals or those victimised desperately looking to tilt public opinion in their favour.
Some people think that these callers have the ability to make or break politicians or businesspeople.

Calling into radio stations, those close to business have told us, is a paying venture now, if craft is applied.

We were told that some of the regular callers exclusively took to defending those in trouble or criticise some politicians on behalf of others. The game also extends to businesspeople, who in many cases have their reputations or businesses propped up by the regular callers.
Mr Moses Kaggwa, an elected leader of telephone callers on radio stations, says that he knows a few making a living out of making calls into radio stations.

“True, there are people who send us money maybe on a weekly basis because they enjoy what we say. But I have always advised my colleagues not to treat it as a permanent job,” Mr Kaggwa says.

Mr Muhammad Sseggirinya, a renowned supporter of Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, says he spends at least Shs15,000 on telephone airtime a day, which is Shs5.4m a year. He says he draws the money from his mobile telephone accessories business in Kyebando, Kawempe Division.

Politically, some perennial callers on local radio stations that defended the government or those who crossed from the Opposition to the ruling party were rewarded. More than a dozen callers, including Mr Kigozi Kaweesa and Mr Linos Ngompek, are now Resident District Commissioners (RDCs).

He, however, says he was once called by a perennial caller on radio stations promising him that he would get a stall on one of the new buildings near Mutesa I Stadium if he stopped decampaigning the project but he declined the offer.

Radio managers say
Mr Michael Kisenyi, a programmes’ director at Radio One/Two, says “MPs call and complain that some callers contact them demanding money lest they talk against them on the radio”.

Mr Kisenyi says having a few listeners calling in has an impact on listenership.

“Some callers think we have telephone numbers for special callers, which isn’t true. When a caller continuously fails to give his or her view, they tend to tune to other stations that give them the opportunity to air out the views,” he says.

Unfortunately, the perennial callers don’t keep loyalty to any radio station; they keep the nob moving to where their interests are.

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