President Museveni last week directed that the Central Broadcasting Services (CBS) radio be re-opened after a year which left over 130 employees without jobs. He said he was adhering to numerous calls from listeners, some of whom NRM supporters.
But the re-opening of CBS has since generated debate with the public wondering how the station got back on air and what it means for the Buganda –central government relations and media freedoms. There is also the fundamental question of whether the government acted within the law both with the closure and the reopening.
The Broadcasting Council, the government regulatory body revoked the CBS broadcasting license on September 10, 2009 for allegedly breaching the “minimum broadcasting standards”.
But Buganda’s former deputy Spokesperson and lawyer, Mr Medard Sseggona, believes the President acted outside the law to close CBS saying the Broadcasting Council did not give the radio managers a hearing.
Under the minimum broadcasting standards, set in the first schedule, a broadcaster has to ensure that any programme which is broadcast is not contrary to public morality, does not cause insecurity, does not distort facts to create insecurity or promote culture of violence or ethical prejudice among the public.
“They said we breached minimum standards, which minimum standards? Which employee incited violence and under which programme?” Sseggona asked.
But the NRM deputy spokesperson, Mr Ofwono Opondo insists CBS had cases to answer, which included among others inciting violence, abusing the person of the President and opposing government programmes.
Sources privy to discussions leading to the re-opening of the radio, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter have told this newspaper, that Museveni opened CBS days to the Presidential nominations due to ‘political pressure, Mr Opondo admitted it was pressure from NRM supporters.
“Our people would find it difficult to campaign and I am sure government conceded to their call,” he said. He, however, emphasised that the closure will not affect the party’s popularity in the central region.
“Buganda is our stronghold and there is no region which gives us a block vote like Buganda. The closure will have no impact at all and now that it has been opened, we expect to get more votes,” Mr Opondo.
Mr Godfrey Mutabazi, the Broadcasting council chairman, said; “The radio was re-opened on political grounds, but its re-opening is not legally binding”.
He said the meeting between CBS management and his Broadcasting council would convene soon to agree on the license terms and conditions in a free and fair process.
Saturday Monitor has since leant that the kingdom’s radio was re-opened after a series of meetings between the central government and Buganda kingdom officials.
According to Kabaka’s Press Secretary Dick Kasolo, the Buganda team comprised, Ssemakula Ndugwa [Elder], Mustafa Mutyaba and Kaaya Kavuma while the government team included Security, Minister Amama Mbabazi, former Senior Presidential Private Secretary Amelia Kyambadde and Information Communication Technology Minister Aggrey Awori.
“Mbabazi was very instrumental in the whole process. He was with us [Buganda], he actually at one time admitted that it was a mistake to switch off CBS because it was a few individuals who used it for selfish interests,” Mr Kasolo said.
According to sources, a week after the closure of CBS, Museveni convened a Cabinet meeting at Entebbe and discussed the issue of the kingdom’s radio.
The President wanted CBS reopened immediately. But some ministers refused arguing that it would appear that the government had bowed to Buganda’s pressure.
The Cabinet instead resolved CBS closure be used as a means to break Mengo’s back since it is among the kingdom’s key profit making ventures. In their wisdom, this would paralyse Mengo’s operations and government would use this opportunity to win some radical elements and have others sidelined.
They also said opening the radio would disorganise NRM primaries especially in Buganda. It was therefore resolved that the radio be opened after primaries.
They also reasoned that the reopening would help the government in disseminating campaign information.
But Godfrey Sebaggala, the projects coordinator of Uganda Human Rights Network for Journalists said a bad precedent has been set even if the station has been “politically” switched back on air.
The government actions are a clear indication that radio stations are now vulnerable and can be closed anytime if they are deemed to be unfriendly to the government. This is a very dangerous precedent and it should be challenged in courts of law,” he argued. According to Sebaggala, although the law provides that radio stations that flout minimum broadcasting standards get two warnings from the Broadcasting Council, for the case of CBS and the other three stations that were temporarily shut down, this was not followed.
The presidential Press Secretary Mr Tamale Mirundi yesterday said government was not up to gaining anything from the reopening of CBS and believes there is no bad blood between the central government and Buganda.
Meanwhile, CBS management has resolved to suspend politically-active staff from office. According to sources, the Managing Director of the radio, Mr Kaaya Kavuma said employees will have to decide to either be politicians or presenters.
“He told us that whoever wants to remain a politician should leave the radio,” a source said. It is, however, not clear whether Mr Kaaya’s directive is one of the demands that the government may have secretly made. Radio presenters are also mandated to control call-in programmes.
“We are happy that the radio is back on air because it was unjustly switched off. But we shall continue with other demands,” Mr Peter Mayiga one of the kingdom’s minister said.
“We know CBS did not commit any offence apart from airing the fact that government had blocked Kabaka from travelling to Kayunga.”
The radio legal advisor, Mr John Katende, said legal proceedings would continue. “The case in court was filed by the employees and not CBS radio,” Mr Katende said.
It is estimated that the radio has lost more than Shs1 billion in advertising revenue when it was closed. Before its closure, CBS had the highest rating in the central and Mr Mayiga said it would maintain its number one position.
CBS was last Saturday switched back on air with breaking news of its re-opening announced by News anchor Wamala Balunaba.