Monday February 1 2010

Besigye suffers radio blackout in the north



By Tabu Butagira & James Eriku


Forum for Democratic Change leader Kizza Besigye is reportedly having a rough time reaching rural voters on his tour of Acholi sub-region amid reports that radio managers there are too scared to host him.
Daily Monitor has learnt that senior employees of Luo FM in Pader District on Saturday abruptly cancelled Dr Besigye’s scheduled 8-10pm talkshow, citing “orders from above”.

CBS factor
The “order from above” expression, in Ugandan speak, is an ominous invocation of a powerful directive, either by a well-connected politician/security personnel - if not the employer – that subordinates are unable to challenge.

MP Odonga Otto (FDC; Aruu) said they booked the two-hour slot at Shs800,000 a fortnight ago but when they turned up to clear the bill prior to the planned show, the radio managers declined to receive the cash. “They said they had received orders from above not to host any opposition politician on the radio station and don’t want their station closed like the Central Broadcasting Station,” he said.

Government took CBS, a largely Buganda kingdom-owned radio, off the airwaves on September 10 last year, accusing it of inciting riots in and around Kampala during which at least some 27 people were shot dead.
The radio station, which President Museveni accuses of abusing him and demonising the ruling NRM party, remains shut to date.

Dr George Lugalambi, the head Mass Communications department at Makerere University, said yesterday that CBS’ tribulation is taking a “knock-on” effect on smaller broadcasters without clout to fight political threats.

Negative effect
“This has a negative effect on democratic debate and participation towards next year’s voting,” he said. Since Dr Besigye on Friday began touring Acholi sub-region, where he is popular, commercial radio stations there have but all shunned featuring him. None of the radio owners was willing to speak on the record, fearing governmnet backlash.

Pader Resident District Commissioner Santos Okot, accused of freezing Saturday’s talk show, last evening told Daily Monitor that he was being used as a scapegoat. “I don’t run business for that private radio station and I have no powers to give them instructions. How can I stop a radio station from getting money?” he said.

Political sabotage
Media experts warn that a threat by the state is whittling down the space for plurality of ideas and forcing self-censorship on the media. “This would be sabotage of political opposition,” said Dr Lugalambi. Francis Babu, the chairman of the National Association of Broadcasters, said they have received no instruction from government on how to run business.

He said: “However, since the closure of CBS, a lot of radio proprietors are sensitive and others have put their own regulations that they do not want to be involved in political talk shows.”

Last November, Dr Besigye twas blocked from featuring on Nenah FM in Karamoja, last November region. Ms Sarah Eperu, the spokesperson for FDC Women’s League, said they are in northern Uganda to market Dr Besigye for FDC leadership as well as popularise the party.