Insight

Why is this regime kicking politics off the airwaves?

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A journalist covers an event recently. President Museveni late last year warned radio stations against hosting “bad political elements”, saying their licences could be revoked.

A journalist covers an event recently. President Museveni late last year warned radio stations against hosting “bad political elements”, saying their licences could be revoked. Human rights bodies and journalists have since condemned the shrinking space upon which they are operating. Photo by Faiswal Kasirye 

By Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi

Posted  Sunday, January 27  2013 at  02:00

In Summary

Move. Critics say the government aims to kick politics off the airwaves, so that people can discuss less controversial social issues.

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UCC letter
Kitagwenda MP Nulu Byamukama, who is the proprietor of the radio station, confirmed to the Daily Monitor that he received the letter from UCC ordering the suspension, but said he had taken up the matter with the authority and hoped it would be resolved soon.

Mr Kasirivu, who was also stopped from hosting two other programmes, News Hour and World Express, told us that on January 9, he received a call from his employer, Mr Byamukama, who was in Kampala, informing him that there was a letter from the UCC ordering his suspension. However, Mr Kasirivu says, the letter spelt out no charge for which he was to be suspended.

The following day, Mr Kasirivu said, he was on air when plain-clothes officers, who he said introduced themselves as coming from the UCC, entered the studio and ordered him to stop broadcasting, an order he said he politely turned down, arguing that his listeners would be hurt.
The same day, Mr Kasirivu continues, the same men returned with a letter, purporting to have “orders from above” to revoke the licence of the station since it had refused to sack him. At that point, Mr Kasirivu was suspended from broadcasting.

He would find out later that the problem was having hosted four MPs who are critical of the government – Mr Theodore Ssekikubo (Lwemiyaga), Mr Muhamad Nsereko (Kampala Central), Mr Medard Bitekyerezo (Mbabrara Municipality) and Mr Vincent Kyamadidi (Rwampara).

The police searched his laptop for recordings of the programme on which he had hosted them. But police investigations into the matter resulted in no charge being preferred against Mr Kasirivu, reportedly recommending that he be reinstated in his job. He had not been reinstated by the time we went to press.

Contacted for comment, Mr Mutabaazi denied any knowledge of this case.
Mr James Eriku, the Monitor’s bureau chief in Gulu, reports that the situation, especially at radio stations is not very different in the north, with “senior mobilisers” in the offices of different resident district commissioners intimidating radio stations to throw critical panelists out.

Cancer invading Kampala?
But the onslaught on radio stations, it appears, is not stopping in the countryside. At CBS, Buganda Kingdom’s radio station housed at Mengo in Kampala, recent media reports say CBS management was forced to suspend two vocal MPs, Mukono Municipality’s Betty Nambooze and Mr Nsereko, from the political talk-show Kkiriza oba gaana, hosted by Medi Nsereko.
The station Managing Director, Mr Godfrey Kaaya Kavuma, however, said he had never received any letter from UCC to that effect.

Ms Nambooze, however, said she was called by a “junior person” at CBS who told her that she would no longer be invited for the programme. “And, indeed, I have never been invited again,” Ms Nambooze said.
She added, “maybe the top management was put under informal pressure without a formal letter being written.”

One fears that some of the radio station workers or panelists could suffer the fate of Robert Kalundi Sserumaga, the former host of Radio One’s public affairs programme, Spectrum. Mr Sserumaga has been off air since 2009, when Mr Mutabaazi, then the head of the Broadcasting Council, wrote a letter banning him from hosting the show.
Mr Sserumaga challenged the ban in court but the case has never been heard to date.

It remains to be seen whether the heightened onslaught on media outlets will stem the “indiscipline” which the president complains about.
In the meantime, human rights defenders and journalists groups have protested the restriction of the already relatively narrow space to freely enjoy the constitutional right to freedom of expression, which includes freedom of the press (media).

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