Monday January 9 2012

BBC Radio among 10 switched off in police mast crackdown

By Richard Wanambwa & Emmanuel Gyezaho


At least 10 radio stations, including BBC Radio and Radio France International (local relay channels), have been taken off the air by the police in an on-going crackdown over the alleged illegal use of equipment and facilities belonging to state broadcaster, Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC).

Detectives, who conducted the swoop on Friday and Saturday, are also understood to have switched off Kenya-based Citizen Television and three internet service providers for reported illegal connection to UBC power supplies, now estimated to have cost the national broadcaster millions of shillings.

The police are now investigating possible complicity by some UBC officials in having some of the shutdown media access the broadcaster’s equipment without formal authorisation. “Somebody has to explain how these companies got access,” said deputy police spokesperson Judith Nabakooba. “They [UBC] will need to make us understand this issue; whether it’s the engineers or the supervisors but somebody.”

Ms Grace Akullo, head of the Criminal Investigations Directorate confirmed the developments but referred this newspaper to police spokesperson Asuman Mugyenyi for finer detail.

Mr Mugyenyi said a search at UBC facilities at Kololo and Naguru stations in Kampala and Mwizi in Mbarara had revealed that a number of radio stations were “illegally” hooked onto the broadcaster’s power supply system. “We visited Kololo and Naguru stations and we found out similar illegal connection to UBC power supply involving many radio stations tapping power without any contract,” he said.

The shutdowns
On Saturday at the Kololo station, detectives proceeded to disconnect local relay channels for British Broadcasting Corporation radio, Citizen TV , Radio Buddu FM, Voice of Africa and internet service providers Infocom, I-tel and Sangline, Mr Mugyenyi said. The police also switched off Italian Embassy radio security facility.

At the Naguru station, the team switched off Radio France International, Radio Bilali and Radio Rutu for “illegal connections” which the police say may have cost UBC as much as Shs392million. This newspaper could not independently verify claims of loss in costs. However, one of the services that the state broadcaster provides is rent out space on its masts for which private firms hook on their transmitters legally. These transmitters have to be powered by electricity and as such each of the firms is expected to have a standby generator in the event of power outages.

Room for abuse
It is here, according to the police, that companies have allegedly found room for abuse. Ms Jane Kasumba, the UBC spokesperson, declined to offer comment, saying “only the managing director can comment on the matter.” But Mr Kihika could not be reached on phone.

In Mbarara, Greater African Radio and Top Radio were reportedly found using power illegally, so was BFM in Bushenyi District. On Wednesday, police shut down Better FM in Kyenjojo District on similar grounds and withheld equipment including a transmitter.
The police crackdown, which began last year, brings the number of stations switched off the air to 11.

Former Presidency Minister Kabakumba Masiko resigned her Cabinet post after the police shut down her radio station, Kings FM, for alleged illegal use of UBC equipment. However, the station was re-opened under unclear circumstances last week after one month.